“How do you manage to stay on top of all the new stuff?” I’ll usually get at least one person who wants to know this after I give a presentation. The fact is, I don’t have an approach. I am curious, and drawn to new stuff. It shows up everywhere — even in pop culture. In a recent Torontoist review of conductor George Daugherty’s “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony,” John Semley wrote: “‘It is so sad,’ Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes once bemoaned. ‘All your knowledge of high culture comes from Bugs Bunny cartoons.’”

Like any of the more-memorable program’s quotes, it was a pithy observation that rang true, speaking to whole generations who can pass in high society, thanks to the references that have been passed down through cartoons and Hollywood movies. (If you’ve ever burned Carlos Gardel’s “Por Una Cabeza” onto a CD and labeled it “Tango Song from True Lies,” then you know what we’re talking about.)

Not only high culture, but science and technology, too, have become democratized through entertainment media. Quantum physics, nanotechnology, gene sequencing, macroeconomics, and hundreds of other science and art terms can be found in your daily newspaper. There are hundreds of fascinating TED talks (ted.com) illuminating abstruse points of astronomy, demographics, neurology, epidemiology, and more.

So if you are feeling that you are behind the times, and want a brief list of convenient sources of entertaining facts, I’ve put one together for you. These are simply things I’ve found fascinating that may appeal to your engineering and problem-solving sensibilities:
• “The Diamond Age,” by Neal Stephenson (1995). Sixteen-years old but not dated, Stephenson’s extrapolations of nano tech, augmented reality, and other technologies are unequaled.
• “Darwin’s Radio,” by Greg Bear (1999). For a thorough and gripping — yet rigorous — explanation of the facts of evolution and the molecular biology of viruses, I doubt you can find a better read than this.
• “Incandescence,” by Greg Egan (2008). MIT’s Technology Review said, “… a book that could double as a primer on general relativity and astrophysics.”
• “A Powerful Stroke of Insight,” by Jill Bolte-Taylor. Okay, you have a sense of the bicameral nature of the brain, and the fact that the “left brain” deals with numbers and words, while the “right brain” is concerned with shapes, music, and relationships. Maybe insights, too. But Bolte-Taylor, a Harvard brain scientist who experienced and chronicled a massive stroke, will give you a completely new understanding of how it all works — in 18 minutes and 42 seconds. (http://tinyurl.com/n8bnc5).
• “VS Ramachandran on Your Mind.” On the TED site: “Vilayanur Ramachandran tells us what brain damage can reveal about the connection between cerebral tissue and the mind, using three startling delusions as examples.” How the brain works, as far as we know, and how we learn about it. (http://tinyurl.com/nmn5cv).
• David McCandless on data visualization. McCandless makes it clear that tons of data can actually clarify truth when intelligently presented. (http://tinyurl.com/5tau29z).
What do you read, watch, listen to? Let me know.

— Joel Orr

www.joeltrainsauthors.com, (650) 336-3937,
America’s Empowering Book Coach, Twitter: @jobookmaster

Edited by Leslie Gordon, leslie.gordon@penton.com

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.