Hello! It’s Victor! Happy Sunday! Here are links that kept me busy this month.
It’s raining newsletters (allelujah). Short of a looming “newsletter fatigue” mentioned by the article which hasn’t happened yet, the engagement in readership and feedback feels really different than social media. Chatting with friends after they’ve read my newsletter sometimes feels like the resurgence of an Internet Club, the link-sharing equivalent of a book club. It may be time to bring webrings back!
Sexualisation is in the eye of the beholder: Amber Thomas made an excellent analysis of dress codes in US school handbooks. To the surprise of no one, they are disproportionately targeted at girls rather than boys, put the onus on them at the detriment of their education, and are truly the ones that sexualise students before most think of it.
The CIA have developed a template list of questions to think about a problem from new angles. It’s been turned into a generic brainstorming techniques sheet, which is actually very versatile and worth printing next to your desk for helping you think about any kind of problem. It’s varied, and sometimes more efficient than to keep asking why.
One of the perks for full-time employees at my other job is unlimited holidays. In results-oriented workplaces, the reasoning is that “if we don’t track the time you spend working, then why would we track the time you don’t?”. It’s a common perk for tech startups, but also at larger companies (chiefly Netflix, Evernote and Virgin America). And it's not just by charity to attract hires, but also to encourage creativity and prevent burnout: “By the time you need a vacation, it’s too late,”says the CEO of Buffer. “In the western world, we go to the doctor when we’re ill. Eastern medicine promotes the idea of going to the doctor when you’re healthy, to talk about preventative care, things we can keep improving. That’s the method I’ve started to think about for vacation. I want to plan ahead so I don’t ever want to fully deplete myself.”
But does it work? Buffer in fact found out that this holiday policy (or rather, the lack of one) meant that people took less time off than they would have otherwise. The complete lack of guidance meant people were afraid to take more holidays and be perceived as slacking off more than peers, and there is an untold expectation behind “unlimited”. Nobody thinks taking 75% of your year off would be reasonable, but what is actually reasonable and expected is actually a range which varies by person and culturally (Americans take significantly less holidays than in France or Sweden for example, which can be an issue in remote global teams).
They ended up solving this by replacing it with a minimum holidays policy, and after a year worked out the numbers and how to make it work.
FullContact even ran the experiment of actually paying employees $7,500 once a year to go on holidays somewhere, under the condition you actually go on holiday and log off from work. One of the benefits, they claim, is an incentive to reduce the “hero syndrome” from constant presence and encourage constant documentation.
Gaze at this sentence for just about sixty seconds and then explain what makes it quite different from the average sentence.
hint: watch Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek's fun TV quiz game.
The YouTube series Borders by Johnny Harris/Vox is excellent, covering displacement, cultures, fences, heartbreaks, odd stories from different places.
It’s Brexit month! With opinions over how to reach the optimum “satisfied populists/low fuckup” ratio dividing parties a little bit more every day, now is a good time to remake the case against “sensible” politics.
Wikipedia is the best website
A list of redundant place names, with favourites like Mississippi River (big river river), Soviet Union (union union), River Avon (river river), Sahara desert (desert desert). Scottish readers will know the Dundee Law Hill (hill hill) and Eas Fors Waterfall (waterfall waterfall waterfall).
See also: naan bread, chai tea, queso cheese.
If other pleonasms like “a free gift” leave most people indifferent, nothing truly annoys pedantic people more than using things like “PIN number”, “ATM machine”, “DC comics” or “LCD display”. I’ve learned that this is, very aptly, named the RAS syndrome.
Talking of names, Hurricane Bawbag has perhaps one of the best short “Naming” sections in Wikipedia history.
Spreuerhofstraße claims to be the world’s narrowest street, varying between 31 and 50 centimetres. The “See Also” section has many contenders however. La Avenida 9 de Julio, in Buenos Aires, claims to be the widest — with 16 car lanes and over 3 minutes to cross, which sounds like hell.
Talking about animals, we may soon have a Dermophis donaldtrumpi in biology textbooks, a newly discovered but soon-to-be-extinct amphibian species that sees the world in black and white. EnviroBuild, a company that won the auction to name the new species, chose the name in protest of Trump’s environmental policies and views that deny climate change.
Hold on, you think it’s absurd that we name a species after political things? According to the list of things named after Donald Trump (!), it’s actually the third species named after him. It notably follows Neopalpa donaldtrumpi, a species of micro-moth “with small genitalia and distinctive yellowish-white scales covering the head”. No, it won’t stop Trump, but yes, the scientific community is petty.
The story of Benjaman Kyle is one hell of a read. The man was found unconscious in 2004 behind a Burger King dumpster, sunburnt, naked and beaten out; having left no identity documents behind, the emergency services named him as “Burger King Doe” on documnts. He woke up with dissociative amnesia, initially unable to remember his name until recalling his first name is Benjaman (two ‘a’s), and picked a last name based on the placeholder initials. He, the authorities and media spent the next 11 years in search of his identity and past, leaving him partially homeless and unable to work without a social security number.
The New Republic published an excellent longread article about the case in 2016, a year after his real identity was found again using DNA matching.
Potemkin Village refers to “fake” villages built of mounted façades and one-sided buildings and houses, designed to deceive monarchs passing through it into thinking the town was modern and thriving (when the beautiful houses never existed, or were decaying). Although the original story is likely to be a myth, the term has remained to describe similar concepts of illusory architecture to hide reality from high-ranking political figures, from photographs in storefronts at G8 summits to redoing an entire region for the Olympic Games.
The demilitarised zone separating North and South Korea has two “peace villages”, each one belonging to each country. Kijŏngdong, belonging to North Korea, is largely thought to be actually uninhabited. Built in the 1950s as a propaganda space to attract Southern Koreans to defect to the North, its modern (at the time) features were largely oriented to be visible from the South, but telescopic observations now suggest that the windows have no glasses, lights turn on and off at set times, and streets are maintained by a minimal crew for illusion.
The term is also used for training camps. In Britain, a 300 square metres fake town exists in Gravesend, Kent, developed by the Metropolitan police in the early 2000s to let young police officers practice riot situations. It contains a mixture of film sets façades and more realistic buildings, where officers practice containing fake mobs played attacking with petrol bombs. It was documented in Architecture of Conflict by James Rawlings, and by Chris Clarke’s photos.
More artificial towns in the form of Swedish racing tracks, US military training camps, European city replicas in China in the photographs of Gregor Sailer.
The Wellcome Collection in London had a great exhibition called Living with buildings examining how the built environment influences our health.
Unrelated side note going back on Wikipedia again: like spoken language, sign language have numerous dialects, often amplified because of the smaller communities of signers and a history of insulation of segregation with hearing people.
Black American Sign Language, rooted in the racial segregation of schools — which included schools for the Deaf, has some differences with “standard” ASL that remain in use today. Black signers use a different phonology (use of space, use of two hands) and vocabulary, sometimes loaned from spoken African-American vernacular English (“Other loan words modified existing signs, such as STOP TRIPPING, which took the bent-v handshape of TRIP and moved it up to the head to indicate a new meaning of "stop imagining things”).
In Flemish-signing Belgium, the gender segregation in schools until the 1970s meant that some signs were “girl’s signs” and others were “boy’s signs”.
Signers in Manchester use a different system for numbers, compared to the rest of the UK. This site highlight variations in many other signs based on geography.
Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the US coast, was known as “a Deaf utopia” for several centuries. An unusually high proportion of the population was Deaf and caused its own village sign language to thrive, with everyone hearing and non-hearing able to sign — until the population and economy largely changed in the early 20th century.