Intelligence
mStoner’s Ninth Annual Top Picks
mStoner’s Ninth Annual Top Picks

Intelligence

mStoner’s Ninth Annual Top Picks

Jan 08, 2020By Travis Koury

As we dive into 2020, the mStoner team reflects on their favorite things from the past 12 months. We’re excited to present mStoner’s Ninth Annual Top Picks — a crowd-sourced collection of all the stuff — influencers, podcasts, books, and more — we love. We hope you find something new to listen to or learn from in the new year.

Not familiar with the series? Check out our seventh annual and eighth annual top picks.

Do you have a favorite to share? We’d love to hear from you. Tweet us at @mStonerinc.


Bingeworthy Books

This year I discovered the Red Rising” series and am currently devouring the latest book, “Dark Age.” Author Pierce Brown is such a masterful storyteller, NPR called it Shakespearean. What’s “Red Rising” like? Mix “The Hunger Games” with “Game of Thrones” and then send it to space.

— Mallory Willsea, director of marketing and business development

2019 was the year that I went nerd on trees, reading “Around the World in 80 Trees” by Johnathan Drori and “The Overstory” by Richard Powers. I still can’t properly identify the trees in my ‘hood, but I have a greater appreciation for trees as living, thinking, feeling neighbors — even if living, thinking, feeling are the wrong words to describe what trees do. Did you know old trees help young trees by sharing their resources? We should all be so kind.

Ben Bilow, creative director

Skip “Where the Crawdads Sing” and read the Neopolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. These four books aren’t new to 2019, but I discovered them last spring and I basically spent the last half of 2018 immersed in the epic story of Elena and Lila, best friends growing up in the post-WWII slums of Napoli. HBO televised a series based on the first novel, “My Brilliant Friend,” and I can’t wait to watch the second season, which comes out in 2020.

Abby McLean, UX/visual designer

I picked up “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari, and I couldn’t put it down. The author does a great job of aligning facts and history into a narrative that’s both compelling and entertaining. This nugget really stuck with me: “Happiness does not really depend on objective conditions of wealth, health or even community. Rather, it depends on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations.” 🤯

Travis Koury, marketing specialist 

I’ve been co-leading a study group focused on Joseph Goldstein’s book “Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening,” which is a terrific guide to Buddhist concepts and practice. Goldstein, who’s one of the most important Buddhist teachers in the West, offers clear and compelling explanations that are understandable to beginners — and also to those with a lot of experience.

Michael Stoner, co-founder and co-owner

Best of Higher Ed

The Northeastern College of Engineering site seamlessly blends really smart navigation with great storytelling. It highlights research in a way that’s approachable and relevant; it’s clear (even to someone with zero engineering vocabulary, like myself) what the research is trying to accomplish and why it’s important.

Amy Weiss, content strategist 

For me personally, 2019 was the year of WordPress. I’m very excited about the WordPress sites we’ve built last year, grateful for the opportunity to contribute in a hands-on fashion, and super excited about Gutenberg and ways we can deepen our expertise and build even better sites in the future.

Bill McLaughlin, chief operating and financial officer, head of project delivery 

mStoner helped clients launch a lot of new higher ed websites in 2019, and they are all great in their own way. One of my favorites is the new University of North Carolina School of the Arts homepage. This wasn’t a full website redesign, but an example of an mStoner collaboration with a client that launched a great website four years ago and then gave that site a stunning new homepage based on data and feedback from the original relaunch. UNCSA turned its 2015 website project into a new internalized process that has helped it stay ahead of the curve and get results from the website.

Greg Zguta, director of client support

My favorite site from mStoner launched in 2018 is a site Ben Bilow and I collaborated on, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. I think we were able to breathe some life into what some could consider to be a pretty dry and nonvisual subject, international studies, and make it feel vibrant and relevant.

Abby McLean, UX/visual designer

Listen-Worthy Podcasts

Against the Rules with Michael Lewis”! I love Michael Lewis’ books, so I was excited to check out his new podcast series. He uses his signature style and insight to explore our trust in referees and fairness in a number of arenas: sports, government, and student loan debt, to name a few.

Shannon Lanus, director of content strategy and services 

I listen to a lot of podcasts, but my best find this year was the “Duolingo Spanish Podcast.” The episodes are 20- to 25-minute human interest stories. The podcast switches back and forth between the subject telling his or her story in the first person in Spanish, and the host providing third-person context in English. It’s been a great tool for practicing my Spanish comprehension, and the stories — which come from all over the Spanish-speaking world — are fascinating!

Amy Weiss, content strategist

On our long drive back to Ohio for Thanksgiving, my husband and I binged on a couple of podcasts. “The Ballad of Billy Balls” is billed as a “true crime” podcast, but it is so much more. It begins with the death of Billy Balls on the Lower East Side of New York in the early ’80s and follows as his girlfriend’s daughter tries to unravel the truth of his murder, and it examines the aftermath of his death and the effects on her family.

Abby McLean, UX/visual designer

On any given day, you can find me religiously listening to true crime podcasts such as “Last Podcast on the Left” or “My Favorite Murder.” But earlier this year, I found “Blackout,” which is a fictional thriller that “follows a small-town radio DJ (voiced by Rami Malek) fighting to protect his family and community after the power grid goes down nationwide, upending modern civilization.”

Kaycee Woodford, UX specialist 

The only podcast I listen to is “My Brother, My Brother and Me.” It’s totally off-color, inappropriate and I LOVE it. It’s just a nice break to laugh for an hour with three brothers who are all hilarious.

Elisabeth Bland, web analyst 

Everyday Apps & Internet Tools

I discovered Bending Spoon’s app Sleep. Not only is it the most beautiful app in the world,  but the slow-talking, soft-spoken narrators bore me to sleep in just a few minutes … without fail … when I’m traveling. Seriously, though, Bending Spoons is an amazing company! But the pillows at Aloft suck.

Ben Bilow, creative director

Water Reminder app. Drink that water, all 100 ounces a day.

Voltaire Santos Miran, chief executive officer, head of client experience

This is the year I decided I was done with ads on the internet. Browser ad blockers are getting easier to outsmart, so I set up a networkwide ad blocker on my home server.

Kim Ward, front-end developer

I’m never really motivated to go to the gym, and once I’m there I usually struggle to find a routine. Once I started using BodBot, it was like having a little personal trainer in my pocket (a much, much cheaper version). It tells me what to do, when to do it, and how often to do it. Hands down the bossiest app on my phone.

Travis Koury, marketing specialist

This is a year when I decided to take online privacy and security even more seriously, so I switched to the Brave browser. Brave is built on the open-source platform Chromium, which is the foundation for Chrome, but Brave is designed to be private and offers features such as built-in ad blocking. It’s fast. And any extension that will work on Chrome will run on Brave. There’s a lot more to like — including a cool leonine icon.

Michael Stoner, co-founder and co-owner

Analog Lifestyle

I’m a bullet journaler. Of course, I rely on my Google and iPhone calendars too, but keeping my schedule, to-do lists, habit trackers, and various notes all in one physical place is really helpful. It’s also a fun excuse to use pretty pens and an outlet for me to doodle.

Amy Weiss, content strategist 

Right now, I’m experimenting with handwritten notes on the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil and Noteshelf. It’s saving me a ton of time and blends many of the things I like about handwriting notes and tasks but in a more scalable and efficient way. Special props to Paperlike, a European company that sells a screen protector that makes writing on the iPad feel more like writing on real paper.

Bill McLaughlin, chief operating and financial officer, head of project delivery 

After five years of staring blankly at the espresso machine, one day I detailed it and mastered the perfect cappuccino. Best beans of the year go to Dark Matter Unicorn Blood Espresso Blend. My kids believe that I have unicorn magic now, but it was always there.

Ben Bilow, creative director 

This year was the year of relearning cursive, the full focus planner, and the traveler’s journal. And it’s always the year of the fountain pen. Here’s the gateway drug for the un-inked.

Voltaire Santos Miran, chief executive officer, head of client experience

When it comes to cooking, I tend to have a pretty manual approach, even if it takes a little longer. I much prefer hand-kneading bread over a mixer or bread maker, and I love having a cookbook in front of me as opposed to my laptop, which almost always ends up covered in a dangerous amount of flour.

Kaycee Woodford, UX specialist

We can’t wait to hear your top picks of 2019. Tweet us @mStonerinc.


  • Travis Koury Marketing Specialist As marketing specialist, Travis Koury shares mStoner’s thought leadership and service offerings across a multitude of channels. He thoughtfully applies digital marketing best practices to ensure higher education marketing and communication professionals can easily discover and access mStoner’s helpful resources, primary research, and on-demand content.