Good afternoon friends and new subscribers, it's Victor. Hope you're all doing well.
Here's things I've learned this month and wanted to share.
Wikipedia is the best website
- Félicette was the first cat to travel to space.
- The price of Coca-Cola in the US remained fixed to 5¢ a bottle for 73 years. This remained the case even when inflation, wars, taxes and competition made this price harder to maintain. In later years, this was partly because early vending machines (largely owned by the Coca-Cola Company in the US) could not reliably make change, and they “feared that requiring multiple coins (e.g., six pennies or one nickel and one penny for six-cent Coke) would reduce sales and cost money to implement. Reluctant to double the price to a dime — the next price achievable with a single coin — they were forced to keep the price of Coca-Cola at five cents.”
- They tried multiple strategies to raise the price however, from approaching the US Treasury to mint a new 7.5¢ coin, to having some empty bottles in the vending machine which meant you'd sometimes have to pay twice to get a bottle.
- Royal Mail rubber bands have their own article, which is warranted when the company allegedly uses one billion of them per year to tie together bundles of letters at sorting offices (at almost £1 million yearly). They have often caused controversy in the press because of littering. Street tidying projects asked people to send in bands they've found, and received upwards of 10,000 each time.
- A list of people with the most children (straight people are wild etc) (imagine having 34 siblings??)
- TIL there was a Spider-Man musical made in 2010. It has the highest budget ever for a Broadway production ($75 million), but closed to catastrophic financial loss. The article keeps on giving: the show features 27 aerial sequences but safety standards were lax, a winning combination that eventually forced the show to close after insurance companies flat out refused to provide cover anymore. Alan Cummings left the production after a month, directly quoted in the article: “My GOD, that was a lucky escape. Jesus Christ! Talk about dodging a bullet there!”
- An article discussing the shape of the universe. The Earth may not be flat, but maybe the universe is.
- A list of shoe-throwing incidents, or “shoeing” for short. The practice is ancient and listed in the Old Testament — the page lists an incident in the year 359 against Roman emperor Constantius II — but it seems that (absolute king) Muntadhar al-Zaidi sending his onto George W. Bush restarted a trend, with… many more occurrences becoming recorded in the following years.
- There were bread dildos in ancient Greece. Allegedly.
- In Spanish, you don't say daydreaming, you say thinking about the immortality of the crab.
- Archaeoacoustics is a field that explores the acoustics of archeological sites: “since many cultures explored through archaeology were focused on the oral and therefore the aural, researchers believe that studying the sonic nature of archaeological sites and artefacts may reveal new information on the civilisations scrutinised.”
- Some male fish accidentally become intersex because of chemicals that get flushed down our waste system. (This was often reported as being caused by the estrogen in birth control pills, but there is little evidence to say it's the only thing causing this).
- Got reminded of this after watching the excellent new show Connected on Netflix, which makes similar observations on recreational drugs too: there's alarmingly high levels of cocaine and MDMA found in rivers, enough to affect the behaviour of fish in unpredictable ways.
- A history of the long, fascinating race to invent the automatic rice cooker (TIL Sony may have been a heavy competitor there).
- The rise, fall, and rise of the status pineapple: “the scaly sweet was too valuable to eat - a single fruit was worth thousands of pounds and often the same pineapple would be paraded from event to event until it eventually went rotten.” 🍍
- Another look at the reality behind the small house/cabin trend: “we quit our jobs to build a cabin—everything went wrong”. Which is not to say it wasn't awesome in the end, but it's probably a good reminder that behind the beautiful Instagram shots and the Netflix series, there's many cabins that go unfinished and ruin's people health and bank accounts.
- The Dutch broadcaster NPO got rid of targeted ads on its website, and its revenue went up 60% in a year. It's not necessarily because that non-targeted ads are actually more relevant to people — they're relevant to the context and content of the current page it's served on, like internet ads already were ten years ago, rather than based on someone's entire browsing and behaviour history. Largely, it could be because the adtech industry is now so complex and has so many middlepeople, it sucks off half of the money sent by advertisers before they reach publishers. By recreating their own internal sales team for ads, they were able to cut this fee and gain money without tracking their users.
- ‘Disabled People Love Clothes Too’ is a great review of the fashion industry's slow change to produce clothing that's functional and inclusive, as well as stylish, for people with physical disabilities. (Much like the drive to “de-medicalise” many assistive devices, it's also a reminder that everyone has a right to pleasing aesthetics when you need different features.)
Everything is depressing
- In California and New Zealand, organised crime syndicates may be behind hive heists, stealing several million of dollars of bees and honey. How to Steal 50 Million Bees relates one of the beekeeper's story and how much of an incredible feat it is. I've talked about stolen bees before, and I'll bet jars of honey that this will be the plot of a Netflix original in a few years.
- The pandemic's biggest mystery is our own immune system, which, you see, is very complicated. This is a great, easy-to-digest article to learn a bit more about how our body deals with viruses and why it's so complicated to figure out a cure.
- The truth is paywalled but the lies are free: the culture wars is hard to win because good, factual journalism costs money, when conservatives have long understood that in the internet age, you need to make your papers free for them to be widely shared and believed.
- Climate change isn't the only problem with fossil fuels: air pollution alone is much worse than we thought. We've changed the focus to global warming, “but there’s an irony involved: the air pollution case against fossil fuels is still the best case. […] The evidence is now clear enough that it can be stated unequivocally: It would be worth freeing ourselves from fossil fuels even if global warming didn’t exist. Especially now that clean energy has gotten so cheap, the air quality benefits alone are enough to pay for the energy transition.” This is a strong reminder of why we quickly need to change transport in cities, despite the constant reminders that industry is the biggest factor of climate change.
- An excellent interview with Noam Chomsky, who wants Americans to vote for Joe Biden and then haunt his dreams. I've long given up on electoralism and shaming people into going to the polls for the “least worse” option, but he makes good arguments on why radicals can still spend 15 minutes every 4 years to make small progress: it's not being oblivious to the work that needs to be done to effect real change, but it helps to have less chaos at the top.
- I've also recently read that a Biden win will give a false sense of security to lukewarm middle-class liberals, who primarly dislike Trump because they're embarrassed that he's their president, rather than actually caring about people affected by policies that both he and the Democrats have long pursued. (This is an incredibly valid take in the UK with Boris Johnson vs the 'Guardian reader' persona, too.) It's probably true, but it's also likely that their indignation never translated to meaningful change either way.
- Defund the Police? We’ve Already Done It Successfully in America: an example from the 70s, where ambulance services mostly were ran by the local police and fire departments before paramedics got a budget. “[It's a] great instance in which armed and untrained police officers have been relieved of a particular responsibility and replaced with specially trained personnel, resulting in a greatly improved outcome for members of the community.”
- TheirTube is a project that lets you explore the potential YouTube homepage and recommendations of other people based on other videos they've looked at. It's a damning view of how the algorithm reinforces an echo chamber that's deadly for democracy: it often takes just 5-6 videos watch on an untainted account before you're only recommended conspiracy theory videos or conservative “rAtIoNaL ThOuGht” news and opinions.
In my ears
Work! Design! Tech!
That's it for this month. Hope you survived the heatwave and the apocalyptic winds.