Friday, October 25, 2013

25 Killer Websites that Make You Cleverer

25 Killer Websites that Make You Cleverer

25 Killer Websites that Make You Cleverer

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It’s easy to forget that we have access to a virtually limitless resource of information, i.e. the Internet. For a lot of us, this is even true at our fingertips, thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones and an ever-increasing push for online greatness by tech engineers all over the world.
As a result, there are countless websites out there that are geared to make you smarter and more brilliant for either a low or no cost. Here are just 25 such sites that may just make you more clever than ever before.

1. Duolingo

This isn’t the first time I’ve recommended this language-teaching website (and app), and it certainly won’t be the last. Duolingo is a free version of Rosetta-Stone that delivers the same results: teaching you another language. Regular use of the site can have you speaking and writing Spanish, English, German, French, Portuguese and Italian in a matter of months depending on the diligence you put into it. Hopefully, even more languages will become available soon.

2. Khan Academy

Have you ever wanted to pick up a subject you’re not well-versed in, but you didn’t have the money to invest in a college course? Khan Academy aims to provide education at the collegiate level for anyone who wants it. They provide resources for learning pretty much every subject out there, including math, science, history and more. As you learn, the platform will even assess your progress and help you gauge what you’ve learned.

3. Justin Guitar

Guitar is one of the few instruments out there that’s actually pretty easy to learn if you’re a little older, making it one of the most accessible instruments. Still, learning how to play still takes some direction, at least for most people, so a guy named Justin decided he was going to help out. His website provides hundreds of free guitar lessons that range in different styles, depending on how you want to play. His schedule for learning is pretty easy to follow, and the site is a great stepping stone for people wanting to pick the instrument up.
Justin Guitar

4. Cooking for Engineers

Founded by Michael Chu, Cooking for Engineers goes further than just providing recipes. The site is a blog that is geared toward making your food taste good. Additionally, his analytical take on ingredients and cooking recipes is interesting and will likely change the way you approach cuisine.
Cooking for Engineers

5. The Dating Specialist

Or Nick the Dating Specialist is a website that wants to help guys be better dates. The site is full of advice on how to approach social situations and flirt successfully with different types of people. Nick even offers personal coaching at your request, so he can help your specific situation or hurdle to successful dating.
Dating Specialist

6. Nerd Fitness

When we think of exercising and gym techniques, we typically think of bodybuilders and jocks from high school. Nerd Fitness aims to provide resources for getting in shape from a nerd’s point of view. All of the guides, blogs and fitness tips on this site have a geek flavor that is intended to make anyone who feels uncomfortable at the gym feel right at home here.
Nerd Fitness

7. MIT Open Courseware

As much as I would love an education at MIT, that isn’t really in the cards. Thankfully, the educators at the Massachusetts Institue of Technology decided to give out information for tons of courses online through Open Courseware. Hundreds of millions of people have benefitted from the information that they can learn from these courses, starting a trend for other sites to offer free courses as well.
MIT Open

8. Investopedia

I don’t like to admit it, but my lack of a business degree tends to make me feel easily intimidated when a conversation starts taking a turn for the financial. To solve this, Investopedia was born to provide a news blog that makes it easy to digest and really understand the financial markets. There are tons of resources like tutorials and videos that will help you keep up with the ever-changing world of money, and the news stories will keep you coming back for more.

9. Quora

Have you ever wanted to ask someone famous a question, but you suffer from never having the chance? Thanks to Quora, you can read the opinions and answers of fascinating (and varied) questions from the leading experts in pretty much everything. You can answer questions too and get feedback from numerous others who share your love for a given topic.

10. Information is Beautiful

I love reading, but sometimes a visual demonstration just makes information come alive. Hence, Information is Beautiful is a platform that uses gorgeous visuals to impart data. For example, if you want to find out how much money individual organizations have lost from data breaches, you can view an action visual that shows bubbles that are labeled and sized accordingly, giving you an in-depth, but easy to digest overview of the data.
Information is beautiful

11. Spreeder

According to Spreeder, a lot of us have trouble reading quickly because we can only read as fast as our “inner voice” can. Spreeder’s solution is to teach you to read without an inner voice, boosting reading speed and comprehension immensely. The best part? It’s totally free.

12. Project Gutenberg

Imagine a library with tons of free books that you can keep for the rest of your life. Actually, you don’t have to imagine that because Project Gutenberg gives you the ability to download thousands of free e-books, and it’s completely legal.
Project Grutenberg

13. Codeacademy

If you haven’t noticed by now, the Internet has pretty much taken over everything, which means the skill of coding and developing websites is in higher demand than ever, and that’s not likely to change. With Codeacademy, you can use free tutorials that teach you the basics of coding with interactive and handy tools for helping you become an expert.

14. GeographyIQ

Imagine if Google Earth and Wikipedia decided to make it official and have a child. That would be GeographyIQ. Using the world map, you can select any country and access virtually every facet of useful information there is about that country, including history, currency, population and more.
Geography IQ

15. Anki

It’s no secret that the key to memorizing information is mastering recall. With flashcards, you can recall things faster, making Anki an ideal resource for using flashcards online. Unlike other sites that use flashcards, Anki allows you embed more than just text. You can use video, audio and images to help you start studying faster and smarter.

16. Lumosity

Using games to learn is something I’ve treasured since Kindergarten, making Lumosity a trusted resource for me and countless others. Using a daily schedule of games, Lumosity is literally designed to make you more clever. As you progress, the software figures out what your strengths and weaknesses (such as memory or math skills) and assigns you games accordingly. The best part is that the games are actually addicting and fun to look forward to!

17. CliffsNotes

Ideal for high school and college students, Cliffsnotes provides valuable resources like study guides and test prep for standard books and subjects you’ll have to read anyway. The site also provides resources for math and science, giving you the chance to finally master the dark arts of homework.

18. TED

For years, people have been benefitting from TED talks that provide free insights from the world’s smartest people. TED provides the value and learning growth of a seminar, but without the exorbitant costs and travel expenses, by providing visitors with tons of free video lectures. The app is also great for catching up on the latest talks, and you can even download some on iTunes.

19. Pinfruit

Need to memorize a lengthy number? Pinfruit analyzes the number and provides all of the options you could want as a mnemonic device. That’s all there is to it, since (unfortunately) they only provide this for numbers and not words.

20. Mindtools

There are countless blogs that you can enjoy for being interesting and mildly useful, but how many of them actually help you with your career? Mindtools is a blog that teaches you what they call “practical career skills” that you can apply at your job. This is a great daily read for entry-level workers who want to make a great impression, and the variety of topics and advice provided make this is a fantastic bookmark for anyone wanting to excel.

21. Learn Street

Want to take your coding skills to the next level? Learn Street helps teach you how to use advanced coding scripts such as JavaScript, Python and Ruby without making your head explode. It even provides a service for helping you teach advanced code to others.

22. HowStuffWorks

There are things we want to know about, and then there are things we didn’t know we wanted to know about. HowStuffWorks addresses the latter by providing information on a variety of topics and eye-opening facts that will broaden your horizons.

23. OneLook

Finding a great dictionary is not a difficult task in a world full of search engines, but it can be tricky to define more complicated words and phrases that most dictionaries (besides UrbanDictionary) don’t attempt to define. With OneLook, you can find multiple definitions from numerous dictionaries in one place, even if you’re looking up a phrase that is obscure or too specific for normal dictionaries to help you out with.

24. The World Factbook

Did you know that the CIA has information on pretty much everything in the world? Okay, but did you know that they make a ton of this information open to the public? The World Factbook is your godsend for research, allowing you to cite facts and details that pertain to a seemingly endless amount of information from reputable sources.

25. Couchsurfing

Don’t let the name fool you, as Couchsurfing is far from a website that will make you lazy. Couchsurfing lets you connect with travelers all over the world and is the ultimate resource for experiencing other cultures. Put simply, you can use the social network to meet locals in a new community you are visiting. You can also open up your home to fellow couchsurfers, giving you the chance to make new experiences and memories with fascinating people from all over the globe.

Three Counterintuitive Tips To Enhance Your Creativity

Three Counterintuitive Tips To Enhance Your Creativity

Myths of CreativityGuest Post by David Burkus
We live and work in a world of complex problems, and few people would argue that we can solve those problems without a lot of creativity. Creativity is the seed of innovation and, in the business world, innovation is the seed of competitive advantage.
But as important as creativity is, most of us don’t really understand how it works and how to enhance our own creative thinking. Instead, we tell and retell a series of myths, faulty beliefs that serve as our best guess for how creativity works. But the implications of 50 years of research into creativity are re-writing many of those myths. The results might strike us as odd, but they are effective.
Creativity isn’t a vague and mysterious phenomenon. It’s a process that can be learned and developed. We all have the potential to enhance our creativity. We just need to learn the process.
Here are three counterintuitive tips that will enhance your own creativity:
1. Set More Constraints When we think of creative people, we think of them as wild and unrestrained. The truth is that most creative people would be at a loss without a certain level of constraints. Constraints create boundaries that actually help us understand the problem we face and evaluate possible solutions.
Research on individual creativity implies that we can actually open our minds to more creative ideas and better connect unrelated thoughts after we experience constraints. That’s why companies like 37Signals regularly build constraints into their work by limiting the number of people on a project or the number of features a software product can have. While it can feel frustrating in the moment, the result is a vastly better end product. If you’re stuck, trying setting more constraints and see if it helps you better understand your situation.
2. Start a Fight If you look at the offices of the most innovative companies, they seem fun loving and friendly. There are pool tables, free food, and a casual atmosphere. But if you look at their creative process, you find a lot more fighting than fun. Structured, task-oriented conflict is a signal that new ideas are being submitted and tested. A lack of conflict can suggest that people are self-censoring their ideas, or worse not generating any new ideas at all.
Research even supports the idea that adding task-focused conflict into a brainstorming session can actually increase the ideas generated. Film animation studio Pixar schedules regular meetings for the sole purpose of criticizing a film-in-progress. Directors put their project on full display and invite criticism and conflict over what could be done better. It may feel like a fight but it’s also what allows Pixar to churn out blockbuster after blockbuster. If you’re project needs a creative boost, trying inviting in a team to debate the work and build off their constructive criticism.
3. Copy While we rarely acknowledge it, many of the most creative works in history are actually the result of coping and combing various pre-existing works. In fact, most breakthrough creative works are the result of copying and modifying existing works. Microsoft and Apple both borrowed the design of Xerox’s Alto to build their personal computers. Van Gogh copied over 30 different paintings of prior masters to refine his own technique. George Lucas took the theme of Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth” and blended it with concepts and visuals from Akira Kurosawa films and Flash Gordon serials to create the blockbuster Star Wars series.
Research suggests that individuals whose brains make connections between various thoughts score higher on creativity tests. If you’re at a loss for new ideas, try to copy and combine successful ideas. You might just stumble into a breakthrough.

Myth of Creativity by David Burkus
David Burkus is the author of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas. He is also founder of LDRLB and assistant professor of management at Oral Roberts University. You can find him on TwitterFacebook, or at
Note from Jesse:  This week celebrates the launch of David Burkus’s outstanding new book, The Myths of Creativity. A well-researched, easy to read and actionable book that debunks many of our commonly held notions of where creativity comes from and that shows us how to harness the power of creativity to free up the potential of our organizations and ourselves.

11 comments to Three Counterintuitive Tips To Enhance Your Creativity

  • Great thoughts in this post. I especially like your point about most breakthrough creative works being the result of copying and modifying existing works. I’ve always privately thought this was the case so thanks for reinforcing by adding your own opinion + research results.
    Many times I have felt prodded into a creative mindset after being stimulated by an idea generated by others. This is one of my favorite to initiate a line of thinking….
  • Nice points. There’s nothing like using the creative tension of constraints, fighting purposefully and copying to get people to the solutions – sometimes the most obvious ones – they didn’t expect to find.
    • Missed my opening point – being counterintuitive is hard, but these three elements allow breakthroughs.
      • Thanks Alan. Overall I think there’s a lot we purport to understand about creativity that doesn’t align with what research has shown, hence the idea of “Myths of Creativity” for the book. These three might be the most counterintuitive…all the more reason to give them a try.
  • I fought a lot during my tenure as a copywriter! I am happy to know that I am creative!
  • These thing make so much sense. I especially appreciate the advice about inviting criticism. If we are truly committed to great work we must have thick enough skin to hear the tough feedback.Congrats on the new book. Looking forward to reading it!
  • Thanks Susan. It’s a hard thing to receive criticism, but it makes us better. It’s all in the service of having a growth mindset and understanding failure and criticism are never permanent.
  • Excellent article. I love the fact that ideas and innovation are born out of blood and soil. The idea that where there is no “fight” you find no idea generation is true in my context. Regards!
  • Sherrell, mine too. If the entire team agrees on an idea, then most of them are probably unnecessary.

The dexterity and abstract abilities are amazing.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Twitter Illiterate? Mastering the @BC’s

Twitter Illiterate? Mastering the @BC’s

Minh Uong/The New York Times
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Using Twitter sounds so simple. Type out no more than 140 characters — the maximum allowed in a single tweet — and hit send. That’s all, right?
Not quite. Twitter’s interface may look simple, but it is not, and its complexity has turned off many people who tried the service. This is a problem because one of the big questions facing Twitter before it starts trading as a public company, perhaps as early as next month, is whether it can attract enough users to become a robust outlet for advertising dollars. Although Twitter brings in money from advertising, it does not yet sell enough ads to make a profit.
Still, in the few years since it started, Twitter has quickly gained users. People and organizations of many stripes — celebrities like Justin Bieber, brands like Oreo, even the economist Jeffrey Sachs — have flocked to Twitter to share information and thoughts.
In a prospectus released for investors last week, the company said its worldwide monthly users grew to 232 million in the third quarter, up from closer to 200 million early this year. According to a Pew survey, the percentage of American Internet users on Twitter as of May was 18 percent, more than double the percentage in November 2010.
But those numbers are a far cry from those attained by Facebook, a top rival. Facebook has more than a billion users, and according to a Pew survey, Facebook was used by 67 percent of American Internet users as of late last year.
Will Twitter become a platform used by the masses? Maybe the best way to answer that question is to use the service yourself. Here’s a primer.
SET UP AN ACCOUNT Signing up to Twitter is simple. Just choose a username, known as a handle, and a password. Most people try to use their name or a variation of it as a handle, like @BillGates. Try to keep it short. You don’t want your handle taking up too many of the 140 characters if someone mentions you in a tweet.
Next, give other Twitter users some sense of who you are. People who don’t know you but find themselves interested in your Twitter feed will want some clues about whether they should “follow” you — meaning add your Twitter messages to the ones that they see in their unique feed. Unlike on Facebook, where people connect with their friends and family, on Twitter most people follow others with similar interests or professions.
Start by adding a profile picture to your account. A headshot, cartoon, image of your puppy — anything is better than the default egg, which screams Twitter newbie.
And fill out your bio. Use the 140 characters available for your bio to explain who you are and try to give a sense of what topics you will tweet about. You can also include a link to a Web site, maybe of the company you work for or a personal site. Here’s an example of a strong bio from Laura Seay, a political scientist:
“Proud Texan. Colby College political scientist. I study governance by non-state actors & U.S. policy in central Africa. Scenic Maine”
BUILD A COMMUNITY Next, find people to follow. The Twitter messages written by accounts you follow will show up in your feed, also called your timeline. It’s easy to get deluged with tweets, so be selective about which accounts you follow. You want your timeline to feel alive with smart, interesting, informative and entertaining tweets. But remember that “unfollowing” an account is only a click away, too.
Decide what topics you’re most interested in, like college football or Canadian politics or New York restaurants, and then search by name for writers or commentators on those topics. You can also search by topic or geographic area on
Once you find an account that tweets regularly on a topic you’re passionate about, see what that account follows. For example, if you’re a fan of Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti), a feminist author and speaker, you can follow her and then discover others interested in gender issues by looking at her feed. To see everyone a person is following, click on the person’s name and then click “Following.”
Once you’ve found people to follow, engage them. Send them a link to an interesting article. (To save character space when sending a link, use a Web address shortening service like Interact with them: respond to their tweets by hitting “reply,” mention the articles they share, show that you like a tweet by hitting the “favorite” button. When all else fails, try a compliment.
LEARN THE LANGUAGE To engage with people, it helps to know some of Twitter’s insider language and etiquette, which is a big part of what can make the service confusing for new users. “RT” means retweet; it is used when repeating what someone else said. If you want to add commentary, place it before the RT. Here’s an example of Cory Booker, the senator-elect from New Jersey, retweeting and adding commentary to the Twitter user @LindsCarter on Election Day last week:
Twitter pros often amend their tweets with “via” or “h/t,” which stands for hat tip. These are ways to give credit to someone who shared the information first. Acknowledge others in the Twitter community, and the favor will most likely be returned.
UNDERSTAND THE SYMBOLS Twitter users often add hashtags, like #Brooklyn or #SuperBowl, to enable others searching for that topic to find their tweet. They work well in specific instances — during events like professional conferences, for example, when you want to know what others are saying about a panel.
But hashtags, while a nice idea, often feel so #2012. They’ve been overused and aren’t terribly useful for searching. Hashtag fans will disagree, but my advice: Use them sparingly.
An important technical rule governs the use of the “@” sign, which is the beginning of every account’s handle. If you start a tweet to someone with “@,” only that person and those who follow both of you will see the tweet. This is so you can have a semi-private conversation with that person without cluttering up others’ timelines. To make the tweet appear in the timelines of everyone who follows you, add a word or character before the “@” sign, even just a period. Here’s an example from Dan Nowicki, a reporter at The Arizona Republic:
BUT TWEET LIKE A PERSON A lot of people join Twitter and think they are supposed to suddenly start writing in short bursts of words barely strung together. Who needs pronouns or subject-verb agreement? This is Twitter!
Twitter is still a conversation, and you will want to be understood. Write the way you speak. Let your tweets flow like sentences. And let your character come out.
ORGANIZE YOUR FEED One of the best ways to organize the madness that can become Twitter is by using the platform’s lists tool. Create different lists based on your interests and then add people to them. At 9 a.m., when you want the news, you can pull up your media list and see what your favorite news services and journalists are tweeting. At 5 p.m. on a Friday, pull up your entertainment list to get weekend plans.
TELL OTHERS And finally, the best way to build your community is by telling people that you’re on Twitter. Add your handle to your business card, your e-mail signature and, when possible, the bottom of your correspondence, like so: Follow me on Twitter@HannaIngber.