25+ Websites That Will Make You Think

Does your family accuse you of wasting time on the internet? Follow these sites on Twitter/Facebook/RSS and dazzle folks at the next family gathering with your academic and cultural insights.
  1. Academic Earth. Free university video courses spanning a range of subjects including history, chemistry and computer science.  Why pay $50K a year when you can just take the courses online?
  2. All Things Human. This website has interesting things about the most fascinating creature. (Guess who’s the most fascinating creature.)
  3. Arts and Letters Daily. A great collection of articles, essays, disputes and reviews by a select collection of bloggers and publications.
  4. Arts Journal. A "daily digest of arts, culture, and ideas," sure to provide stimulation for aesthetes and intellectuals.
  5. BBC Dimensions (aka HowBigReally). This website takes important places, events and things, and overlays them onto a map of where you are. Seriously fascinating stuff. 
  6. Big Think. The Big Think website is a collection of ‘global thought leaders’ who offer their thoughts and analysis on world events and other important developments
  7. Brain Pickings. A discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you realize you are.
  8. The Browser. Collects journalism from around the internet judged to be of lasting value to the general intelligent reader. Also has a section where they invite experts to recommend the best reading in their given fields of interest.
  9. Cafe Scientifique. A forum for debating the latest issues in science and technology.
  10. Cosmo Learning.  Founded with the objective of providing free learning from the world's top scholars, gathers and organizes educational content in an easy-to-use environment. 
  11. The Edge. Seeks out the most complex and sophisticated minds, puts them in a room together, and has them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.
  12. Eyewitness to History. A collection of eyewitness accounts and media from the ancient world through to modern history.  Cut through the spin and get the information straight from the source.
  13. Forum Network. A website formed of a partnership between PBS and NPR that gives access to video lectures by some of the world’s foremost scholars, authors, artists, scientists, and policymakers.
  14. Gapminder.  Shows the world’s most important trends: CO2 emissions, HIV spreading, internet users, and the wealth and health of nations.
  15. How Stuff Works. An enormous website that explains the workings of everything from electronics to déjà vu.
  16. Information is Beautiful.  Takes information - facts, data, ideas - and turns it into well-designed charts, graphs and data visualizations
  17. Khan Academy. A not-for-profit dedicated to changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.
  18. The Long Now Foundation. The Long Now Foundation hopes to provide a counterpoint to today's accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common. We hope to creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.
  19. Mental Floss. Where knowledge junkies get their fix.  I'm definitely addicted!
  20. MIT Open Coursewear. You can read through course materials, lectures, even experience audio and video from the classroom.
  21. New Scientist. Carries new articles from the magazine as well as the NS archive of over 76,000 pieces
  22. Newser. A platform that aggregates current events from hundreds of newspapers and sorts them by their level of interest and popularity. Each news story is presented in a two paragraph, easy-to-read format, with links to the original story source. In this format, you can get the main idea of hundreds of events going in the world, and if you want a more in-depth idea, you can always click on the links to read the full article.
  23. Open Culture. "The best free cultural and educational media on the web" - and they aren't kidding.
  24. PSFK. Though focused on design, advertising, and technology, a must-read for anyone who wants to be on the cusp of new trends and emerging ideas
  25. TED. Brings together the most brilliant minds to teach us about issues that matter
  26. Thinking Allowed. The Thinking Allowed series aired on as many as 120 public TV stations in the U.S. and Canada for more than 18 years. The program features many of the world's leading scholars, researchers, writers and teachers and covers a broad range of topics
  27. Top Documentary Films. 100s of top quality documentaries
  28. The WWW Virtual Library.  Relies on a consortium of experts around the world to present the richest content available on the Web in a broad range of subject areas.


Cool Trivia About the English Language

I love trivia about the English language!  The following examples are pulled from all over the internet, so can't vouch for their veracity, but they sound likely.

Did you know ....
  1. Letters
    1. The most commonly used letter in the alphabet is 'e'. (1 out of every 8 letters written is an 'e'.)
    2. The least used letter in the alphabet is 'q'.
    3. The youngest letters in the English language are 'j', 'v', and 'w'.
    4. The letter 'w' is the only letter in the alphabet that doesn't have one syllable. (It has three.)
    5. Skiing is the only word with double 'i'.
    6. 'Subbookkeeper' is the only word in common English with four consecutive double letters.
    7. There are only three words in the English language with the letter combination 'uu': muumuu, vacuum and continuum.
    8. Words that contain the letter combination 'abc': abcaree, abchalazal, abcoulomb, crabcake, dabchick, drabcloth.
    9. words that contain the letter combination 'xyz': hydroxyzine, xyzzor.
    10. As recently as the 19th century, the ampersand (&) was considered to be the 27th letter of the alphabet.  It was called “and” or sometimes “et”. "Ampersand" is a distortion of  “and per se and,” which is what children were taught to say after "z." 
  2. Word Parts/Affixes
    1. Dreamt is the only word that ends in '-mt'.
    2. there are only 4 words in the English language which end in '-dous': hazardous, horrendous, stupendous, tremendous.
    3. Only 3 words in standard English begin with the letter combination 'dw-': dwarf, dwindle, dwell.
    4. 'Underground' and 'underfund' are the only words in the English language that begin and end with the letters 'und'.
    5. 'Angry' and 'hungry' are the only words in the English language ending in '-gry'.
  3. Fun with Words
    1. The most commonly used word in English conversation is 'I'.
    2. The most commonly used words in written English include: the, of, and, a, to, in, is, you, it, he, for, was, on, are, as, with, his, they, at, be, this, from, I, have, or, by, one, had, not, but, what, all, were, when, we, there, can, an, your, which, their, said, if, do.
    3. The word 'set' has more definitions than any other word in the English language. (192 definitions.)
    4. The longest one syllable words in the English language are 'screeched', 'scratched' and 'strengths'.
    5. The shortest 5 syllable word in the english language is 'ideology'.
    6. The longest word in common English is 'pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis'.
    7. The longest word in common English with no repeated letters is 'uncopyrightable'.
    8. 'Floccinaucinihilipilification' is the longest word without the letter 'e'. 
    9. The word 'thitherwards' contains 23 words that can be made without rearranging any of its letters: a, ar, ard, ards, er, he, her, hi, hit, hithe, hither, hitherward, hitherwards, I, it, ither, the, thitherward, thitherwards, wa, war, ward, wards.
    10. The word 'almost' is the longest word in common English with all the letters in alphabetical order. ('Aegilops' is longer, but not in common usage.)
    11. 'Spoonfed' is the longest word in common English with its letters arranged in reverse alphabetical order.
    12. The longest words in which no letter appears more than once: dermatoglyphics, misconjudatedly, uncopyrightable, subdermatoglyphic.
    13. The longest words in which each letter occurs at least twice: unprosperousness, esophagographers.
    14. Words in which a single letter is used 6 times: degenerescence, indivisibility, nonannouncement. 
    15. The longest word in common English that is a natural palindrome: redivider.
    16. The longest words that are reverse images of each other: stressed/desserts.
    17. Words that have no singular plural form: alms, amends, braces, cattle, clothes, doldrums, eaves, folk/folks, ides, marginalia, pants, pliers, scissors, shorts, smithereens, trousers.
    18. Non-scientific words that are anagrams of each other: representationalism/misrepresentational; conservationalists/conversationalists; internationalism/interlaminations; interrogatives/reinvestigator/tergiversation.
    19. Words that consist of consecutive letters (with no repeats): rust, struv, feigh, hefig, fighed.
  4. Fun with Vowels
    1. The word 'queueing' is the only English word with five consecutive vowels.
    2. Words that contain all five (or six, if you append "ly") vowels in alphabetical order: abstemious, abstentious, adventitious, aerious, annelidous, arsenious,  arterious, caesious, facetious.
    3. Words which contain all five vowels in reverse alphabetical order: duoliteral, quodlibetal, subcontinental, uncomplimentary, unnoticeably, unproprietary.
    4. 'Strengths' is the longest word with only one vowel.
    5. "Rhythms" is the longest English word without the normal vowels, a, e, i, o, or u.  (Twyndyllyngs is longer, but not in common usage.)
    6. Words that begin and end with vowels, but have no vowels in between: asthma, isthmi, aphtha, eltchi.
    7. The longest word that consists entirely of alternating vowels and consonants is 'honorific/abilitud/initati/bus'.
  5.  Phonics
    1. The most commonly occuring sound in spoken English is the sound of 'a' in 'alone'.  (Followed by 'e' as in key; 't' as in 'top'; 'd' as in 'dip'.)
    2. 'Of' is the only commonly used word in which the 'f' is pronounced like a 'v'. (also hereof, thereof, whereof.)
    3. No words in the English language rhyme with month, wasp, depth, orange, silver or purple.
    4. The following sentence contains seven spellings of the [i] ("ee") sound: "He believed Caesar could see people seizing the seas."
    5. The follow sentence contains nine ways the combination "ough" can be pronounced: "A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed. 
  6. Typewriting
    1. Scientists say the easiest sound for the human ear to hear is 'ah'.
    2. The longest words typeable on a qwerty keyboard with left hand:  desegregated, desegregates, reverberated, reverberates, stewardesses, watercresses. (Aftercataracts and tesseradecades are longer, but not in common usage.)
    3. The longest word typeable on a qwerty keyboard with right hand: homophony, homophyly, nonillion, pollinium, polyonomy, polyphony.
  7. Synonyms/Antonyms
    1. The following words have two synonyms that are antonyms: cleave (adhere, separate), cover (conceal, expose), sanction (approve, prohibit), transparent (hidden, known), trim (garnish, prune).
    2. Synonyms that should be antonyms but aren't: flammable/inflammable, toxicant/intoxicant.
  8. Symbols
    1. The dot on top of the letter 'i' is called a tittle.
    2. The symbol on the "pound" key (#) is called an octothorpe.
  9. Just for fun:
    1. English is arguably the richest in vocabulary; and that the Oxford English Dictionary lists about 500,000 words, and there are a half-million technical and scientific terms still uncatalogued.
    2. The highest scoring word in the English language game of Scrabble is 'quartzy'.  (This will score 164 points if played across a red triple-word square with the 'z' on a light blue double-letter square.)
    3. 'Go' is the shortest complete sentence in the English language.
    4. Victor Hugo's Les Miserables contains one of the longest sentences in the French language - 823 words without a period.
    5. 'Cabbaged', 'debagged', and 'fabaceae' are the longest words that can be played on a musical instrument.
    6. 'Q' is the only letter that does not appear in the name of any of the U.S. states.
    7. The names of all the continents end with the same letter that they start with.
    8. The oldest word in the English language is 'town'.
    9. The ten most commonly used verbs in the English language are: be, have, do, go, say, can, will, see, take, get.  (All are irregular.)
    10. Words that used to be trademarks but have since entered into common usage: aspirin,  bandaid, breathalyzer, cellophane, ditto, dry ice, dumpster, escalator, frisbee, granola, heroin, jacuzzi, jeep, jello, kerosene, kleenex, popsicle, q-tip, rollerblade, scotch tape, sheetrock, styrofoam, tabloid, tarmac, thermos, trampoline, windbreaker, yo-yo, zipper.
    11. The word 'lethologica' describes the state of not being able to remember the word you want.


Book Look - Washington Square, Henry James

This is a surprisingly ambiguous story with a deceptively simple plot. Set in 1900s New York, the story tells the tale of Catherine Sloper, the rather plain, rather dull daughter of a wealthy, domineering father who becomes the target of a charming gold-digger of a suitor. Will she marry him over the objections of her father? See how simple that is? But this is Henry James, after all, so the plot extends - like the proverbial iceberg - several layers below the surface.

Catherine isn't a terribly sympathetic heroine - her dullness, her lack of intelligence, and her refusal to stick up for herself will almost certainly grate with self-actualized women of the 20th century. However, she's much more sympathetic than the uniformly unpleasant cast of characters with whom she interacts in this tale, all of whom see her as little more than a tool to be manipulated for their own purposes. Her aunt uses her as the means by which to fulfill her own melodramatic fantasies of secret trysts and the tragedy of doomed love. Her lover sees her as the path to ready fortune and a life of indolence and ease. Even her own father demonstrates heartbreakingly few signs of genuine affection, viewing his daughter alternatively as an interesting scientific experiment ("how will she react if I apply *this* stressor?") and as a ready affirmation of his own cleverness. The fundamental principle of sarcasm is making the wielder feel superior by belittling another, and in this tale Dr. Sloper wields sarcasm with the same brutal precision he brings to his surgeries.

This is no pat morality tale, however, in which the wicked are punished and virtue is rewarded. Nor is it a thematically simplistic novel, characterized by a resolution in which the main characters change or grow in wisdom. The world isn't as simple as that, and James does us the favor of positing that we know this as well as he does - and that, therefore, we can cope with an ending that is both morally and thematically ambiguous. The novel raises many provoking questions, some of which include: to what extent is a parent justified in preventing their children from making their own mistakes? At what point does principled defiance become merely obstinacy ... or, worse, cruelty? To what extent do we (knowingly and unknowingly) meddle in the affairs of others to achieve our own ends? Can harm and humiliation caused by the betrayal of others be mitigated by a steadfast refusal never to betray oneself? And is this steadfast determination never to betray one's own principles an acceptable substitute for living a life devoid of happiness?

In other words, despite the relative simplicity of plot, this definitely isn't the kind of book you take with you to the beach. However, the novel's moral complexity makes it a worthy read and probably great fodder for book club discussions.