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“52 Things I Learned in 2021”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2021

Tom Whitwell’s list of 52 things he learned during the past year is always worth a read. Here are some of my favorites from the list:

4. 10% of US electricity is generated from old Russian nuclear warheads. [Geoff Brumfiel]

10. Short afternoon naps at the workplace lead to significant increases in productivity, psychological well-being and cognition. In contrast, an extra 30 minutes sleep at night shows no similar improvements. [Pedro Bessone]

21. Women’s relative earnings increase 4% when their manager becomes the father of a daughter, rather than a son. This daughter effect was found in 25 years of Danish small-business data. [Maddalena Ronchi]

35. Clean rooms used to make semiconductors have to be 1,000x cleaner than a surgical operating theatre, because a single transistor is now much smaller than a virus. [Ian King]

37. The notion of a personal ‘Carbon Footprint’ was invented by Ogilvy & Mather for BP in the early 2000s. [Mark Kaufman]

47. The entire global cosmetic Botox industry is supported by an annual production of just a few milligrams of botulism toxin. Pure toxin would cost ~$100 trillion per kilogram. [Anthony Warner]

Inspired by Whitwell, I have been sporadically compiling my own list throughout the year. I’m going to review it soon and see if there’s anything in there worth publishing. Of course, the 1300+ Quick Links I’ve posted in 2021 work as their own giant list of things I’ve learned this year.

A Collection of Airline Seatback Safety Cards

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2021

Seatback Safety is home to a collection of dozens of seatback safety cards from airlines like Pan Am, United, Continental, Emirates, British Airways, JetBlue, and Air France.

seatback safety card for Pan Am

seatback safety card for British Airways

seatback safety card for Hawaiian Airlines

seatback safety card for Emirates

Here’s the rationale for the site:

As a professional designer, it can be valuable to contemplate how practitioners solved the same problem over time with different fashions and different tools.

Seatback Safety cards have been used since the dawn of commercial flight. While their pamphlet form has remained largely the same for a century, they have significantly evolved in ways that reflected broader social and technological trends.

P.S. Did you remember that Hooters had an airline? (It only lasted three years.)

seatback safety card for Hooters Air

Bell Pepper Time Lapse: From Seed to Fruit in 115 Days

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2021

Watch as a single seed is plucked from a red bell pepper, planted in soil, and eventually grows into a fruit-bearing plant. I love how plant leaves in time lapse videos always look like they are flapping madly, trying in vain to reach the nourishing light.

This is one of many such time lapse videos on Boxlapse’s YouTube channel — their most popular videos include dragonfruit, tomatoes, and oyster mushrooms.

Most People Don’t Know How Bikes Work

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2021

How do you steer a bike? You turn the handlebars to the left to go left, correct? Actually, you don’t: you turn the handlebars to the right to go left…at least at first. And also? Bikes don’t even need riders to remain upright…they are designed to steer themselves.

If you’d like to play around with your own bicycle geometries, try this web app for analyzing bicycle dynamics.

Mesmerizing Liquid Eyes

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2021

“Abstract shots of liquid experiments that aim to mimic the visual complexity of human eyes” is what it says on the tin and I cannot improve upon it in an effort to get you to watch the video. Some of these really do look amazingly like eyes.

Arctic Snow Goggles

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2021

snow goggles

snow goggles

snow goggles

snow goggles

snow goggles

For thousands of years, Yupik and Inuit people have made snow goggles from various materials (bone, wood, whale baleen) to help protect their eyes from the sun and, more importantly, from the sunlight reflected off the Arctic snow. The narrow slits also help with the wearers’ visual acuity. Clive Thompson explains in this piece for Smithsonian:

This style of eyewear can even improve vision, as Ann Fienup-Riordan discovered one day in 2010. An Anchorage-based anthropologist who works with the Yupik people to develop exhibits and books about their culture, she had recently undergone surgery on her retinas, and “the vision in my right eye was still pretty fuzzy,” she says. But when she held the Yupik goggles up to her eyes? “I could see!”

What was going on? It turns out the slit focuses the light, much as a pinhole camera does. As a result, far-off objects appear sharper “and your vision was much, much better,” Fienup-Riordan says. Long before the invention of eyeglasses with glass or plastic lenses, Alaska’s indigenous inhabitants, including the Yupik people, devised their own corrective eyewear. Phillip Moses, a tribal member in Toksook Bay, calls them “Yupik prescription sunglasses.”

Snow goggles were probably the first wearable corrective device to be invented.

Goofy 18th-Century Self-Portraits by Joseph Ducreux

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2021

self-portrait by Joseph Ducreux

self-portrait by Joseph Ducreux

self-portrait by Joseph Ducreux

self-portrait by Joseph Ducreux

self-portrait by Joseph Ducreux

self-portrait by Joseph Ducreux

Joseph Ducreux was a French painter active in the latter part of the 18th century — he was a portraitist in the court of Louis XVI and continued his career after the French Revolution. But Ducreux is increasingly remembered for his series of self-portraits that were surprisingly informal for the age in which they were painted. To contemporary eyes, they almost seem to have been painted for use in memes, a purpose for which they certainly have been used.

An Enslaved American in Paris

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2021

In this excellent piece for the NY Times, African American historian Martha S. Jones travels to Paris to search for the signs of someone who came to France as part of a delegation to broker a peace to end the Revolutionary War, an enslaved woman named Abigail who was owned by Founding Father John Jay.

I’ve searched for Abigail a long time now, nearly 10 years. I first puzzled over her life and death as a newcomer to Paris when I stumbled upon the city’s many tributes to American founders. Exiting the Musée d’Orsay and heading to the Right Bank across the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor, with the bateaux-mouches tourist boats passing below, I met up with a 10-foot-tall bronze likeness of Thomas Jefferson, another U.S. founder, plans for his Virginia estate, Monticello, in hand.

Hiking along the 16th arrondissement’s rue Benjamin-Franklin, I ventured to the tiny Square de Yorktown to discover that the figure seated high atop a stone plinth was Franklin himself. Fresh from people-watching from a sidewalk table at cafe Les Deux Magots, once the haunt of the 20th-century luminaries James Baldwin and Richard Wright, I made my way around the corner on rue Jacob. Pausing at number 56, I read the pink marble plaque that marks the site of the Hôtel d’York, where three of the men who shaped America’s independence — U.S. Peace Commissioners Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and John Jay — finalized the Treaty of Paris.

These fabled places are, I recognized, whitewashed. There is no mention of the enslaved people, like Abigail, who were bound to labor in the founders’ Parisian households. No site explains that during John Jay’s time in the French capital, while he brokered the new nation’s freedom, he also dealt in the unfreedom of others.

(thx, meg)

The Omicron Variant

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2021

Last week, a worrisome variant of SARS-CoV-2 burst into the public consciousness: the Omicron variant. The concern among scientists and the public at large is substantial, but it is unfortunately going to take a few weeks to figure out whether those concerns are warranted. For a measured take on what we know now and what we can expect, read these two posts by epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina (as well as this one on vaccines).

B.1.1.529 has 32 mutations on the spike protein alone. This is an insane amount of change. As a comparison, Delta had 9 changes on the spike protein. We know that B.1.1.529 is not a “Delta plus” variant. The figure below shows a really long line, with no previous Delta ancestors. So this likely means it mutated over time in one, likely immunocompromised, individual.

Of these, some mutations have properties to escape antibody protection (i.e. outsmart our vaccines and vaccine-induced immunity). There are several mutations association with increased transmissibility. There is a mutation associated with increased infectivity.

That sounds bad but again, we presently do not have enough information to know for sure about any of this. As Jetelina concludes in one of the posts:

We still have more questions than answers. But we will get them soon. Do not take Omicron lightly, but don’t abandon hope either. Our immune systems are incredible.

None of this changes what you can to do right now: Ventilate spaces. Use masks. Test if you have symptoms. Isolate if positive. Get vaccinated. Get boosted.

This Science piece by Kai Kupferschmidt also provides a great overview about where we’re at with Omicron, without the sensationalism.

Whether or not Omicron turns out to be another pandemic gamechanger, the lesson we should take from it (but probably won’t) is that grave danger is lurking in that virus and we need to get *everyone* *everywhere* vaccinated, we need free and ubiquitous rapid testing *everywhere*, we need to focus on indoor ventilation, we need to continue to use measures like distancing and mask-wearing, and we need to keep doing all of the other things in the Swiss cheese model of pandemic defense. Anything else is just continuing our idiotic streak with this virus of fucking around and then finding out. (via jodi ettenberg & eric topol)

Beautifully Arranged Rock Sculptures

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2021

colorful rocks arranged neatly

colorful rocks arranged neatly

colorful rocks arranged neatly

colorful rocks arranged neatly

Jon Foreman neatly arranges rocks into colorful sculptures. He also does similar sand, leaves, debris, and shells. You can order prints on his site or check out more of his stuff on Instagram. (via colossal)

The Colorful Winners of the 2021 AAP Photo Competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2021

five women holding white balls that mirror the light fixtures above them

overhead view of a green soccer field in a green forest

overhead view of a beach

a hand raised, bathed in blue light

an overhead view of a person surrounded by containers of fish

AAP Magazine has announced the winners of their 21st annual photo competition. This year’s theme was “Colors” and I’ve embedded a few of my favorites above (from top to bottom: Miloš Nejezchleb, Vitaly Golovatyuk, Graham Earnshaw, Joanna Borowiec, and Pham Huy Trung).

Engineering a Capable Climbing Lego Car

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2021

In this video, a simple Lego car is repeatedly modified to navigate more and more difficult obstacles until it can climb up and down almost anything. This fun exercise also doubles as a crash course in engineering and how to build a capable all-terrain vehicle as it “demonstrates what you need to consider: wheel diameter, gear ratio, 4-wheel drive, tire grip, breakover angle, weight distribution”. (via the prepared)

Grief Is Unexpressed Love

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2021

On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert asked Andrew Garfield how performing and art helps him deal with grief. The relevant bit starts at around the 4:05 mark and continues for three minutes — just give it a watch…there’s not much more I can add to what Garfield says and how he says it.

Update: Colbert is no stranger to conversations about grief — here’s his 2019 conversation with Anderson Cooper. (thx, david)

The Ten Rules of Golden Age Detective Fiction

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2021

The Golden Age of Detective Fiction describes a period between the world wars in which a certain style of murder mystery novel took hold, led by the prolific and talented Agatha Christie. Scott Stedman explains about the rise and fall of the genre in today’s issue of Why is this interesting?

It wasn’t until Agatha Christie introduced the world to Poirot that the genre shifted into its strictest and most enduring form: the garden variety murder mystery.

“I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest.” —Agatha Christie.

Agatha Christie is the most popular modern writer to ever live (outmatched in sales by only Shakespeare and the Bible). Christie is unrelenting in her ability to surprise — she killed children, popularized the unreliable narrator, introduced serial killers. Still, she was a fiercely disciplined adherent to a form created by her community of fellow writers, developed in the legendary Detection Club (including Dorothy Sayers, Ronald Knox, and the remarkable GK Chesterton). In an age sandwiched between two world wars — her stories brim with pride for a stiff British moral certitude that was impervious to the most heinous acts against it.

A central feature of many of these whodunits was that the reader had access to all the same information as the detective and could, in theory, figure things out before they did. In 1929, Ronald Knox wrote down 10 rules that made this possible:

1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.

2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.

3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

5. No racial stereotypes.1

6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.

8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.

9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.

10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

It’s interesting to see how these rules are applied and broken in TV and films these days. I feel like “hitherto undiscovered poisons” and “appliances which will need a long scientific explanation” (not to mention the “unaccountable intuition” of characters) are now regularly deployed, which can lead to feelings of being cheating as a viewer if it’s not done well. (via why is this interesting?)

  1. I follow Stedman here in restating this point…Knox’s original text used a derogatory term.

A Whole Day of Sunlight at the South Pole

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2021

From September to March each year, the Sun never sets at the South Pole. This time lapse video, taken over 5 days in March, shows the sun circling the entire sky just above the horizon, getting ready to set for the first time in months. (via sentiers)