Hello, it's Victor. Hope everyone is coping with isolation. Here's my monthly stash of stuff I found while staying at home:
Wikipedia is the best website
- A moonbow is a rainbow that's formed at night, from the light reflected by the moon rather than the sun. Because the light is weaker, it is typically only possible to see the differences between colours with long-exposure photographs, and in good conditions.
- Remember illegal numbers? The impossible colours are also called forbidden colours. They're colours which should be outside of the range of normal human perception and that don't really 'exist' for us, but can be imagined with certain tricks.
- A list of sexually active popes, including many details (and a non-zero number of gay popes).
In the 1950s and 60s, when a lot of Western music was banned in the Soviet Union, a black market for illegal copies of records emerged — and was highly in demand. Because vinyl lathes and presses are very expensive, copyists figured that they were able to 'reverse' the needles of old phonographs to press music onto very soft materials.
One material that worked well for blanks turned out to be X-ray films, and people started raiding hospital's bins to collect them. They cut the round with scissors, burned a spindle hole with a cigarette, and repressed copies of the (rare) real records that made it through the borders. These copies are called ribs recordings (or 'jazz on bones'): they were very poor quality and could only be played 5-10 times, but cost only a ruble… and looked pretty cool.
- A pomato is a grafted plant which produces a potato in its soil, and tomatoes on its vine.
- Exploding whales are incidents of whale carcasses bursting due to a buildup of gas in the decomposition process.
- TIL that during WW2, France and Britain could have become unified under the Franco-British Union: “France and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations, but one Franco-British Union. The constitution of the Union will provide for joint organs of defence, foreign, financial and economic policies. Every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain, every British subject will become a citizen of France.”
Bungee jumping was invented in the 1970s by the Dangerous Sports Club, a British group specialised in “high risk and surreal activities”. They were responsible for early base jumping, trying to run a double-decker bus down a ski slope, gliding around active volcanoes, and zorbing.
Its founding members are known for their involvement with the Oxford Stunt Factory, that resulted in the death of a student launched with a trebuchet in 2002.
Plant blindness is the name for a phenomenon where humans do not notice plants around them, or fail to remember species of plants in their memories. Unlike animals or objects, we just remember that “a plant” was there, but are often unable to tell what it looked like, or what species it was.
- Headlinese is the name of the “language” used for writing short, effective news headlines.
Last year, doctors successfully placed humans in short-term suspended animation. Doing so right after acute trauma (like a gun shot or stab wound) could give precious time for surgeons to operate: “Their heart will have stopped beating and they will have lost more than half their blood. There are only minutes to operate, with a less than 5 per cent chance that they would normally survive. EPR involves rapidly cooling a person to around 10 to 15°C by replacing all of their blood with ice-cold saline. […] Their body – which would otherwise be classified as dead – is moved to the operating theatre. A surgical team then has 2 hours to fix the person’s injuries before they are warmed up and their heart restarted.”
The trial will run until the end of this year (probably longer, in current circumstances), but when the survival odds are that low, even a small increase in success rate would be an incredible medical feat.
- Some blind people are able to understand speech at an extremely fast rate, much quicker than sighted people can. This is largely due to practice, but it also seems that the brain is “rewiring” parts normally used for vision processing into a higher capacity for processing bits of speech.
When cherries 🍒 are a few weeks away from being picked in orchards, they are very vulnerable from rain: water droplets stick to the fruits and can make them rot or spli. If it rains a lot, this can destroy an entire crop — and a year's worth of income.
They're so valuable that for orchards, it's cost-efficient enough to hire helicopters to hover above the cherry orchards, and use the downwash from the blades to shake out the water off the branches and cherries. You can read more about this (tedious) work from the pilot's point of view in The life of a cherry-drying pilot. And no, let's not talk about the ecological impact of this.
- Depends who you ask, but compared to many big cities in the world, London is particularly leafy. A study estimate that the trees in London save the city billions of pounds: they keep the temperature more bearable in the summer month, avoiding costs in air conditioning, lost productivity, removing pollutants and alleviating runoff from storm water. As well as making the city more liveable (I'm so grateful for my local park and back-garden apple tree at this time).
Everything is depressing
- (This is now the name of the COVID-19 section). These links are mostly US-centric soz but I think some of the insights are global!
- Why we should all start wearing makeshift masks for a cultural change and to protect others rather than protecting ourselves, and how to make one at home.
- There are absolutely no plans to return to normal in 2020, and to say that there is a plan at all is an overstatement for most countries. Until a vaccine is found, any post-lockdown strategy will have to be at the level that Asian countries have managed to deploy: systemic and regular testing, and extensive contact tracing will be necessary to imagine returning to normal life.
- Apple and Google have joined forces and started working on a joint method using Bluetooth to help with global contact tracing while preserving privacy.
- In the US, the feds are inexplicably seizing protective equipment and supplies from hospitals at the moment.
- A fascinating longread explaining why the WHO couldn't be the best it could have been at handling the pandemic: it doesn't have decisive powers over its member states, its budget has been slashed, its credibility has been mangled by previous pandemic outbreaks, and it's now in the middle of a political finger-pointing game between Trump and China.
- That very popular Belgian-Dutch study about runners and cyclists spreading coronavirus is not actually a study, and hasn't been peer-reviewed.
- A chat with Dennis Carroll, the expert who saw the pandemic coming — and foresees many more coming in the future, from “zoonotic spillover” mixed in with climate change and globalisation.
- Serious Eats published a very comprehensive guide on how to deal with food, from shops to takeouts. There is so many contradictory information around so I found this very useful.
- Why you should ignore all that pressure about productivity in these non-normal times.
Good to look at
- A good guide on how to edit your own writing. Most of the advice boils down to remembering that the great, clear pieces you read are never the first draft that were made.
- To be filed under “sciency metaphysical stuff I don't understand but love”: Does Time Really Flow? New Clues Come From a Century-Old Approach to Math.
- Taste for Makers is an interesting essay on the nature of taste and evaluating good design. There's a lot to disagree with in there (it's by Paul Graham, so no surprise), but it's great at dismantling the notion that “taste is subjective” that we keep hearing.
In my ears
Work! Design! Tech!
- If you miss working in an office, imisstheoffice.eu gives you the reassuring background noise of photocopiers and coworkers chatting loudly.
- diagram.codes is a tool to make diagrams. Using code. It's in the name.
- For type lovers: a very complete collection of beautiful web-based type specimens.
- A practical template / guide to writing technical specs, listing everything there is to consider (and more). I'm really excited about trying to use this at work!
- Fifteen years later, Norman/Nielsen published an update on their study of how people read online. The core insight remains the same: people scan for information and jump around rather than read everything. If you make content, it is vital to have a good information hierarchy, plain language and placing key information up front.
- If like me, you understand code but have an abysmal understanding of math, Maths for programmers explains the equivalences between math symbols and code. Similarly, this cheat sheet on GitHub can help you convert between representations of the same logic (and has served me well that one time I took a masters-level module in graph theory with the same maths level I had at 13).
Wash your hands (again),