Hello, it's Victor! I'm almost late, but this newsletter isn’t called “monthly-ish” for nothing. Here’s a bunch of interesting links to keep you busy this month, and some updates since the first one!
- This month has been hectic because I’ve started working full-time at Feeld, which is where I’ve started part-time in January. It’s been sad to leave my old place, but I’ve come to realise that working two jobs part-time on both ends of the week isn’t actually as fulfilling as I thought it would be. I ended up feeling like I didn’t have enough time for doing all I wanted to do in either job, and had to make a choice to finish projects. So far it’s been amazing working in a forward-thinking, self-managed organisation and focus on design, after a few years being more technical.
- Some updates from my new year goals:
- I’m currently on a 117 days streak on Duolingo, and I can feel progress! I’ve sort of dropped Dutch and focused on Spanish only, perhaps for the same reason as above (but also just because I’ve reached a point in the course that includes Germanic grammar concepts that never really clicked with me).
- I do not work out every day, but I still try to do so regularly, with regained interest now that my new job doesn’t require a cycling commute and I feel very inactive. At least that resolution has made me significantly less apprehensive of sports and workouts in general, so that’s a first step?
- I still do not miss Instagram or Twitter. I don’t know whether it makes me any feel better about myself, but at least it didn’t make me feel worse and I don’t really have any FOMO, so perhaps it’s an addiction easily overcome once you actually make the effort. I pick up my phone significantly less than before, but it’s still quite a lot (though again, I tend to do things that feel more productive like reading articles, news, chatting with friends, or practicing languages).
- I was in Porto a few weeks ago, for the new work retreat. Hello!
Wikipedia is the best website
- Pareidolia is the name for the tendency to see facial patterns in places that are actually random (the face of Jesus on toasted bread, a man on a Moon crater, or the Rorschach test). It is psychologically related to the gambler’s fallacy of seeing patterns in truly random numbers, and similar statistical errors.
- The fascinating history and naming of the @ sign around the world. It was originally the symbol for a unit of weight equivalent to 25 pounds, and this quarter, called ar-rub in Arabic which led to arroba in Spanish, Portuguese and French. Its shape causes is to be named little monkey or monkey tail in some European countries (dog in Russian, due to the design of the letter on early soviet DVK computers); elephant's trunk in Swedish and Danish; rollmops in Czech and Slovak; snail in Italian; strudel in Hebrew; crazy A in Serbian; sometimes cinnamon roll in Swedish.
And while today we mostly use it everywhere for addressing people digitally, and to mean “at the rate of” in English, it is also commonly used like an ampersand in Tagalog, to mean “and”.
- The Hum is a “phenomenon involving widespread reports of a persistent and invasive low-frequency humming, rumbling, or droning noise not audible to all people”, sometimes prefixed with its location (the Bristol Hum, the Windsor Hum, the Taos Hum). There are many possible explanations, but it generally remains a mystery.
- List of slang terms for money, in multiple cultures. The British section is far richer than dosh, fiver, dough and quid, and includes amazing Cockney rhyming slang etymology.
- Ziad Fazah is a man who claims to speak 59 languages, fifteen of them fluently. This got him an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records until 1998, although there are several doubts over these claims.
- Elephant Polo is a thing, because what else would you expect colonising Brits to come up with?
- The Steamboat Ladies were a group of about 720 women who studied for degrees in Oxford and Cambridge between 1904 and 1907. While they were newly allowed to study there, the colleges would not yet be as progressive as to confer a degree to women, so the women took advantage of an old policy allowing them to actually graduate from Trinity College in Dublin, to which they travelled to in a steam boat after they attended all their classes. The article has a remarkably long list of notable Steamboat Ladies.
- What is the loudest band in the world?
- Many people have heard the infinite monkey theorem, which states that, given infinite time, an infinite number of monkeys typing at random on a typewriter would eventually produce the entire works of William Shakespeare. The Probability section is great to understand the scale of exactly how (im)probable this would be, when that chance is unthinkably small but not zero. (Even if every proton in the observable universe were a monkey with a typewriter, typing from the Big Bang until the end of the universe […] you would need there to be 10360,641 such universes to have a one in a trillion chance to replicate just the first page of Hamlet.)
- In 2003, a team of researchers (from a performance arts course) left a keyboard in the monkey’s enclosure of a zoo for a month and collected the output, which mostly consisted of the letter S. They did however note that monkeys were “not random generators. They’re more complex than that… They were quite interested in the screen, and they saw that when they typed a letter, something happened. There was a level of intention there.”
- I appreciated the quote from Robert Wilensky: “We’ve heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know that is not true.”
- Schools in rural South Korea struggle to find enough young pupils to stay open as the birthrate keeps falling, so they’ve started enrolling illiterate grandmothers in first grade.
- Five Books is a site that lists the five best books about a specific subject.
- Have fun on this 3D map of the London Underground network.
- How to do nothing, a great longread essay about roses, birds, and the value of doing nothing.
- A new study finds a simple way to inoculate teens against junk food marketing: teach them to recognise when they’re being fooled. “Appealing to teenagers’ natural impulse to ‘stick it to the man’, […] researchers have found that exposing manipulative marketing techniques to teens can help them reduce unhealthy food intake.” (Interestingly this worked better on boys than girls, but it also seems to work more long-term than other campaigns).
- A wake up call in Fairbourne, a Welsh village at sea level whose inhabitants could become the UK’s first climate refugees in a couple of decades. It’s interesting how many people living there still either refuse to believe the situation, or expect the government to do something about it (add and reinforce sea walls, an expensive and unsustainable option, or relocate them).
- How Grindr could be used in the New Cold War between the US and China. The app has been Chinese-owned for years, and holds data which could be used to blackmail US administration or military personnel.
- Magic: The Gathering is Turing complete, and officially the world’s most complex game, to the point it shakes some foundations of game theory.
- Buckle up, Twitter is cancelled. Why callout threads on Twitter can be entertaining, but also impossibly pointless, damaging and inaccurate.
- Mystery solved, we figured why the fuck there’s been Garfield phones washing up on French beaches for the past 30 years.
- A great summary of nine mental models that can be used for better thinking.
- Pelle Casse is a photographer who combines hundreds of shots of the same place into one single picture to create bizarrely overcrowded swimming pools, basketballs courts, running pitches and squirrel trees.
- Concrete is the most destructive material on Earth, a problem considering it’s our second most-used resource after water.
Work! Tech! Design!
- It’s a good time now to stop using pseudoscience to justify design decisions. An excellent blog post against bullshit in UX design too: let’s stop using research we don’t understand to guide design decisions or to justify them to stakeholders, and start believing a bit in your own judgements.
- I’ve re-read Sarah Jeong’s excellent free book The Internet of Garbage, which theorises that as platform designers, we should treat online harassment like we treat spam, and stop pretending like it’s free speech that doesn’t make the internet unusable for its targets. A good side read from Anil Dash: if your website is full of assholes, it’s your fault.
- “Ethics”, and ethics: are we entering an era of ethics-washing from digital providers who use our data inhumanely? As designers, what’s our real power when we want to provide a coat of ethics and avoiding dark patterns, when the underlying funding and usage models are fundamentally flawed?
- I talked about the 5 Whys method recently, when determining root causes of problems. Here’s an article explaining why they (mostly) suck, including a good refutal of the Washington Monument case study.
- The rise and fall of Internet Art Communities, from hyperspecific communities to platforms.
- How to read a schematic, if you’re getting into electronics.
- Why software development teams need heroes, the handful of people that will write and know most of the codebase.
- The ultimate guide to writing online
In my ears
Cool GitHub repos
Enjoy the summer!