Cool Things


In my weekly email, I put in something that I think is cool or worth your attention. This is an on-going list of them. You should also check out my 2017 list.

Choir! Choir! Choir! (4.Feb.2018)

My cool thing for this week: Choir! Choir! Choir! (YouTube)

Choir! Choir! Choir! (web) is a twice-weekly drop-in choir experience in Toronto. A ton of people show up, get a lyric sheet at the door, learn a vocal arrangement, and then sing it on video. It looks like So Much Fun!

Check out:

It may not be the most professional music you’ll ever hear, but there’s a real soulfulness and fun to it. And it so made me want to go find a large amateur choir and join in.

There are dozens of clips on their YouTube page.


Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (27.Jan.2018)

My cool thing for this week: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Amazon)

I don’t know about you, but when it comes time to choose a movie where cancer is a strong element in it, it’s a tricky choice. There have been some good, even great, ones (The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Fault in Our Stars, 50/50 come to mind). But it’s a bit like Schindler’s List. You sometimes think I ought to watch it, but I don’t know if I want to watch it.

That brings us to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which you know from the title (spoiler alert:) involves a dying girl. Billie and I watched it last night, and I think it was close to a perfect movie. Beautifully written, beautifully acted, beautifully directed. A lot of humour, and plenty of emotions. When it started, I realised I had read the script (pdf) when it was up for award consideration a couple of years ago. Even so, it still held me all the way through.

I think you might like it.


Stay Tuned with Preet (21.Jan.2018)

My cool thing for this week: Stay Tuned with Preet (Podcast)

What do you do when you get fired because you won’t resign at the order of a dumpster fire and the Attorney General? Along with whatever else, you start one of the world’s smartest podcasts.

Preet Bharara, according to Wikipedia,

…served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2009 to 2017. As U.S. Attorney, Bharara earned a reputation of a “crusader” prosecutor. According to the New York Times, during his tenure he was one of “the nation’s most aggressive and outspoken prosecutors of public corruption and Wall Street crime.” Under Bharara, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York prosecuted nearly 100 Wall Street executives for insider trading and other offenses. He reached historic settlements and fines with the four largest banks in the United States, and closed multibillion-dollar hedge funds for activities including insider trading.


On March 11, 2017, during increased national debate about the appointment of a special prosecutor to manage an investigation of links between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russia, Bharara was fired after he refused to follow Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ request for all remaining 46 US Attorneys appointed during President Obama’s administration to resign.

“Stay Tuned with Preet” is the newest subscription in my podcast list. Less than half a year old, this podcast with the unassuming name has quickly moved onto my must-listen list. Bharara has been, as they say in “Hamilton,” in the room where it’s happened. He is thoughtful, articulate, and not afraid of a difficult question. His insights into what’s going on in Washington are informed, carefully expressed, and always worth considering. The show has some standard segments, like answering submitted questions, interviewing someone, and speaking about something on his mind. Recent guests have included NYT White House Correspondent Maggie Haberman, the former Attrorney General of New Jersey, Anne Milgram talking about the Mueller investigation, and former chess champion and Russia critic Garry Kasparov. These are great listens, all.

Check it out.


A New Prime Number (13.Jan.2018)

My cool thing for this week: a new prime number (a freaking huge one).

When you were a kid, you’d have learned about prime numbers. Those are numbers greater than 1, which are divisible only by itself and 1. So, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, etc.

You might not have know that there are different kinds of primes. One of these types are Mersenne primes, which are prime numbers that are one less than a power of two.

A couple of weeks ago, the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) organisation announced it had found the 50th known Mersenne prime, 2 raised to 77,232,917 – 1. That’s 77,232,917 twos multiplied together, minus one. The resulting prime has 23,249,425 digits. That’s a million digits longer than the previous largest prime known.

That last link downloads a zip file that expands to a text file with the number written out. To give you a sense of how big the number is, the text file is almost 24 MB, which is huge for text file.

I don’t know about you, but it tickles some part of my brain that there’s a prime number out there that’s 23 million-plus digits long. Mind boggled.


Andy Weir (7.Jan.2018)

My cool thing for this week: Andy Weir (Amazon link).

Andy Weir rocketed to fame not that long ago as the indie author who made it very, very big with The Martian (book, film), which I very much enjoyed. Last November, he put out Artemis, which is now the first book I’ve read in 2018. Weir has a real gift for a hard science story. The Martian was all kinds of technical, which I like, and the movie has that great line said by Matt Damon, “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”

Artemis is just as tech-y, takes place on a well-established moon colony, and combines everything from Brazilian mobsters to lots of lunar welding. Plus, the main character is a strong, female protagonist, which is always welcome.

So, if you liked The Martian, you’ll enjoy Artemis. And if you like a good hard sci-fi story but haven’t read any Weir yet, I commend him to your reading list.