Good evening, it’s Victor! Hoping you’re all safe and Omicron-free. Here’s my last newsletter of the year to keep you busy this holiday season:
Wardian cases were the OG terrariums in the 19th century. For the first time, these miniature glasshouses allowed people to transport and keep plants that didn’t take well to long sea travels, when seeds or dry rhizomes didn’t work well. Victorian-era plant dads certainly found a use for them during the Fern Fever, but they were perhaps more crucial in helping the British colonies break global monopolies. Over 20,000 tea plants were smuggled out of China to grow in Assam, and rubber trees from Brazil were taken to what are now Sri Lanka and Malaysia, changing global trade forever. (via Martin)
The largest heist in the history of the Canada was, obviously, a theft of maple syrup.
There is a mountain called Halti that straddles Finland and Norway. It is notable because the highest point of Finland (1,324 m) sits right on that border: its actual peak, 41 metres higher, is just on the other side of the border, in Norway. For the 100th independence anniversary of Finland in 2017, Norwegians wanted to make them a little gift by moving the borders a little bit and gift them an actual peak as their highest point. (Alas, changing borders would have required a ¾ quorum in the Norwegian parliament, which didn’t go through.)
A capitonym is a word whose meaning (and sometimes pronunciation) can change depending on whether the word is capitalised or not. For example Polish/polish, Turkey/turkey, May/may, Ionic/ionic…
Timothy Dexter is an entrepreneur I can only describe as the Elon Musk of his day, who somehow became successful by sheer luck alone (shipping coal to Newcastle and selling bed warmers in the West Indies).
Onfim was a six-year old boy from 13th century Russia. Some of his drawings and homework exercises survived until today: and it’s truly enlightening to see that kids’ drawings haven’t changed that much since the Middle Ages.
A list of house types. So many house types!
Some animals have better night vision thanks to a tissue called tapetum lucidum, which is also what gives them the eerie green laser eyes called “eyeshine” when using flash photography.
Some Chinese people are running “egg fried rice protests”: posting recipes of the dish online as a jab to one of Mao Zedong’s sons, allegedly killed during the Korean War after cooking this during the day.
Someone salvaged the Prince symbol font from a 1993 floppy disk.
An interview with the woman who interpret rap concerts in sign language.
An explanation of why movie dialogue has gotten harder to understand (turns out it’s not just me who needs subtitles for everything).
A chat with the straight men doing gay for pay on OnlyFans and their interesting ease with sexuality.
There’s a new promising treatment for depression that could help people in just five days.
As we seem to be nearing it: the plans for when Queen Elizabeth II dies.
What is cultural appropriation in the food scene (and when it is overused).
This graph explaining the base rate fallacy with Covid-19 is so simple, yet so effective to explain why we see so many vaccinated people become hospitalised.
Once again, the Web3/NFT craze is bullshit.
How Law & Order shaped our views of policing — a bit US-centric, but still a very valid analysis of how people perceive police forces everywhere.
Some thoughts on why flaking is so widespread in SF, which I thought are very valid points in London too.
The fun trend of erasure poetry.
Someone’s figured out the longest possible train journey in the world (in geodesic distance).
Terror Pigeon - Please Stay (Lucy Dacus cover) (synth-pop / US / 2021)
Pelvis - Dance Freak (Mall Grab’s Workers Union Remix) (house / australia / 2016)
Vivek Shraya - I’m a Fag 4 U (pop / US / 2021)
Gay Cat Park - I’m a Vocoder (italo-disco / italy / 1982)
Namasenda - ☆ (hyperpop / sweden / 2021)
Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul - HAHA (electro / belgium / 2021)
An RFC for avoiding Internet centralisation.
An invaluable guide on right-to-left CSS styling and designing, to adapt sites to Arabic or Hebrew.
The easiest way to kill your product is overengineering it.
How to scale software architecture decisions as a team.
A terrific and terrifying write-up of how the 0-click exploit from NSO works (tl;dr: they send a GIF to someone on iMessage, the GIF is actually a PDF file with a GIF extension, there is an old image format in the PDF standard that uses interesting compression, the decompression algorithm had a bug that allowed them to build a Turing-complete machine that can access all memory).
Happy holidays from my end of the fibre optic cable to yours,