Sonal Chokshi, a16z Editor in Chief


Cool Tools Show 243: Sonal Chokshi

Our guest this week is Sonal Chokshi. Sonal is editor in chief at Andreessen Horowitz, where she built the popular a16z Podcast among other things; she’s a former senior editor at Wired, and she directed content and community at Xerox PARC before that. She also did PhD work & ethnographic research in developmental/cognitive psychology on how teachers teach and students learn. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Show on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show notes:

Indian food in an Instant Pot
For anyone who’s listening who’s made Indian food, it sounds really complex. You have to have all these spices and all these ingredients. But the reality is it’s actually one of the easiest, most healthy cuisines you can eat. For those of you that don’t know the history of Indian cooking or how mothers teach daughters, which is not to be gender specific here by any means, but that is sort of traditionally what happens in India, there’s a lot of contortions around the steps and combos and proportions. My mom and I used to fight all the time growing up because she’d be like, “There’s no recipe. Just eyeball it!” I would be like, “Give me a fricking measurement!” So what’s really cool about it is that instant pot actually democratized cooking for us, and in a way that it didn’t feel like you had to be this inheritor of this long thousand year tradition to make Indian food. If you know about analog pressure cookers in India, and even in America, they’re really scary. They’re not safe. I would hear these horrifying whistles when they were ready to have the dal ready, and rice, and my mom would freak me out like, “Stay away, your face could blow off if you’re too close to this!” With the Instant Pot you can actually do things faster, better, and we can get over our preciousness of all the different steps and combos and just really enjoy the food instead of making a production out of making it. You would think that’s only true for single item foods like biryanis and Khichdis and dals, which are sort of rice and lentil based. Like it’s basically the equivalent of a paella in a pot. But you can actually make a full on meal, with multiple different ingredients in it like chana masala with like garbanzo beans, and combine different things. You’ll need a spice kit, which has five essential ingredients. Which would be red masala, so like pepper, yellow masala, which is like turmeric powder, brown masala, which is basically cumin and cilantro powder, either one of those works, and then kind of a dark brown powder, which is garam marsala. Then of course, you need the two seeds, which are either mustard seeds, which you need in almost every Indian food, and cumin seeds, which are kind of the essential ingredients. Every cook has a tray of those five. I’m very agnostic about my brands. To me, they’re all the same as long as they’re fresh and the dates are fresh. That’s what I look for. So I would recommend you can go anywhere online, any local ethnic grocery store.

Hoi Bo Contoured Linen Face Mask
This is a Hoi Bo face mask. It’s a Canada-based brand. Very local makers. Everything’s handcrafted inside their Toronto studio. I have no stakes or interest, I’m a pure fan in appreciation of what they do. They describe this as focusing on a balance of beauty, design, craft, and functionality, which just sounds like a bunch of buzzy words. But what’s really interesting to me is that their work is inspired by the structure and strength of work wear, but it’s incredibly light and elegant and beautiful. They have very clearly defined shapes, sometimes even origami-like. I think if we’re really going to make masks more widespread, they should not be just a utility, just like we don’t wear our clothes like a utility. We don’t even wear our devices as a utility, right? So I really strongly believe masks need to be just like fashion where you wear shirts, jeans, hats, everything. These are fashionable, but more importantly, they’re so comfortable because they’re lightweight. They’re pure linen, so you can breathe through them, which is what I love about them. It’s the most expensive mask that I own. The reason I went ahead and coughed up for that is because it’s washable. The problem is, I think we treat masks as a bit too disposable, and they need to be more fundamental. So it’s almost like a pair of jeans for your face. That’s how I justified it.

Bosign Mini Walnut Wood Antislip Lap Tray
The reason I put a lap desk on this is because I know people talk about different types of lap desks. You have Wirecutter reviews and you guys do all these wonderful cool tools recommendations. My issue is that, particularly in this time of the pandemic, many people have had to go remote very suddenly, and many people, including me, are stuck in small apartments without a dedicated home office set up so you have to double up your space. I am in a one bedroom apartment, so I do not have a dedicated office space. It’s basically the size of like a very overlarge place mat, maybe, is how I describe it. It’s made of different woods. The one I have is walnut. What I love about that is that the grain, it adds a natural friction so things don’t slip off of it like they do from these uber, overly plastic lap desks. Many lap desks out there feel like they’re just this utilitarian gross plastic things. This is so enjoyable because there’s a soft pillow underneath that has a canvas kind of pillowcase that you can unzip and wash. Here’s the thing, when you put a laptop on your desk, it feels like a foreign thing sitting on your desk. It doesn’t feel like an extension of you. This lap desk, to me, feels like an extension that’s naturally sitting there. It also has a slight indent in the upper right corner. So unlike these overly dedicated plastic lap desks where you have a proper cup holder, this has like a slightly indented square in it where you can put paperclips or your phone or a cup of coffee if you want, and it does the job.

Substack is a tool which makes it easier for writers of all kinds to start a newsletter, including manage your subscriptions, payments, and more. So before, if you were a journalist and you wanted to start your own newsletter or own your own audience of it, first of all, you don’t really own your own audience because you’re going to buy books and indirect channels, media journal articles, whatever. Then secondly, if you wanted to set something up, you have to do all the plumbing yourselves, like set up a payment infrastructure, the list management infrastructure. People take a huge cut of all that and it’s not very optimized. Honestly, not to be stereotypical, but some of the more creative people I know are not necessarily the ones who want to also do all that. The other thing that’s great about it is it expands the definition of a writer. Because I think for a lot of people, we have this traditional notion that it has to be like someone who went to journalism school. But there are a lot of academic experts, there’s other people who are just learning as they do things, who don’t have an outlet or even credentials necessarily, but they do have a lot to say and they build a following. So Substack is amazing because it’s basically enabling all these amazing writers to create full time and, honestly, very successfully, way more than even their media jobs and other careers. The other thing that I think is really kind of neat about it too, this general trend, is that we’re seeing a time where media, it’s no longer just traditional big media outlets. Individuals can become media outlets. Companies are media outlets. So I think it’s very exciting to me when something democratizes something for everybody else.

DuWop Reverse Eye/Lip Liners
This is a cool tool, a very cool tool, I would say, that creates a barrier on your face so makeup won’t travel down or around. It stays put where it is. When I put eyeliner on, usually you just put like eyeliner or eyeshadow and you just put this thing directly with an application wand. If you put lipstick on, you just put it directly on your lip. Sometimes people put a thing called lip liner to give it a bit of definition and extra layer of color. What the DuWop Reverse Liners do is you can create a little bit of a boundary barrier around your lips and under your eyes. Because when you put makeup on, sometimes if you have a loosey fine eye shadow powder, much like an Indian spice that’s finely milled, it falls into like the cracks of your crow’s feet or your under eye lines and it smudges and looks messy. It basically acts as a barrier. It seems like it’s kind of waxy, but it’s made out of kombucha or macadamia oil or some kind of weird combo of ingredients and it’s applied through a pencil. The other cool thing about it is because it’s in that shape, is it also acts as an eraser. So if you make a mistake, you can clean it up. I think of makeup as like the same thing as like pencils, Blackwing pencils or school supplies. It’s very exciting because it’s the same kind of tool in a different category.

About Sonal’s newsletters:

I have two newsletters. One called Art Dev, which is basically a play on the word dev as in developer, dev as in Devdas, or Devi, like God in India, developing in real life. The idea is because I hate how people make art so inaccessible to everyone, like it has to be intermediated by galleries and curators. The language people use about art is so highfalutin and postmodern weird crap. It’s just weird. So I’m trying to write about art in a way that’s accessible and that lets you feel it viscerally, not just intellectually. That’s what Art Dev is. Then my other newsletter, which is new, is called World Building, and that’s fully devoted to everything that’s related to world-building for creators of all kinds. So not only in the narrow sense of traditional science fiction and fantasy games, VR, but world-building even app buttons or movies and how people do lighting.


© 2022