January 2022

Inspired by “52 things I learned this year”-posts by the like of Kottke and Tom Whitwell, I’ve started making notes of stuff I pick up while reading and browsing, with a goal of learning something new every day.

Oh, and there’s the usual ambition of drawing something every day, too. That... didn’t work. “Every day” is tough! Here’s the current tally:

  • Days with nothing learned: 9
  • Days without drawing: 14 (ouch)

It’s hard to find the time (and way too easy to blame the kids), so it was inspiring to read Justin Fuller’s blog post about Arnold Bennet’s How to Live on 24 Hours a Day:

[Arnold Bennet] suggests that we use the evenings for learning. About what? It doesn’t matter, really. But you should spend your time learning about something. [...] The point is that you spend your time learning about something you’re interested in so that you experience it more deeply.


Bennet has a few words of caution for us.

First, he recommends that we start small. With a small amount of time and small expectations. Don’t try to apply this every day of the week. Give yourself a window of an hour for thirty minutes of reflection; expect interruptions and distractions.

Next, he recommends that we don’t become too strict about our regimen. The idea is for the learning and reflection to serve our life, not for our life to serve the regimen.

With anything that improves life, we have to avoid becoming a snob about it. There may be reasons that it doesn’t work for everyone, or why they can’t implement it. Improving ourselves is enough work already — there’s no need to worry about improving everyone else.

Finally, we should be cautious of failure at the beginning. Learning of a way to improve one's life can come with a strong motivation that disappears quickly when things get tough. Be careful not to overdo things.

Some notes from January

Torness Nuclear Reaction Complex (Permalink)

In 1989, Scotland opened a nuclear reaction complex called Torness, designed in the 1970s as “ the UK's bid to build an export-earning civil nuclear power system”. Charles Stross describes it as a “colossal collision between space age physics and victorian plumbing” in a spectacular article about a recent visit.

Thinking yourself to death (Permalink)

There’s something called psychogenic death, which occurs when you’re so demoralized you enter a depression spiral, go beyond apathy, and shut down and die.

Weird Old Book Finder (Permalink)

Clive Thompson has made a wonderful little site called Weird Old Book Finder, where you can input a search term and get a random old book in return. I tried searching for “food” and was presented with this mouthful of a title from 1859: “The Curiosities of Food; or the Dainties and Delicacies of Different Nations Obtained from the Animal Kingdom” (Google Books) The gist of it is: if an animal exists, someone has made good eatin’ out of it. It reads like some explorer has traveled the world and eaten his way through a list of exotic and endangered animals. Elephant’s paw? Yes, please! Here’s a taste:

The armadillo, remarkable for its laminated shell, when baked in its scaly coat is a good treat, the flesh being considered delicate eating, somewhat like a rabbit in taste and colour. The flesh of the large twelve-banded Brazilian one (Dasypus Tatouay) is said to be the best of all. In South America there are several species of armadillo, all of which are used for food when met with.

Ye olde colophon (Permalink)

A common colophon from the days of hand writing or copying manuscripts was “Finished, thank God.”

Dinnertime questions

Horseshoes (Permalink)

After discussing them with my 4-year-old, I fell down a rabbit hole about horseshoes. Are there different types? Like, is there a horseshoe version of, say, sneakers? Turns out horses have many types to choose from, but mostly corrective shoes for various (painful-sounding) hoof maladies.

The funnest fact was that the Romans shod their horses in hipposandals, similar to a modern hoof boot.

Loudest finger snap (Permalink)

The world record for the loudest finger snap was recorded at 108dB. According to this handy chart, that’s about as loud as a live rock concert. (The average human pain threshold is 110dB.)

Isothiocyanate (Permalink)

The stuff that causes the burning sensation in your nose when you have a bit too much mustard or horseradish (what I’ve now learned is called a pungent taste) is called an isothiocyanate.

Geri’s dress (Permalink)

Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack dress has its own Wikipedia page. (It’s a Gucci minidress with a Union Jack tea towel sown onto it by Geri’s sister.)

Polar bear dinner (Permalink)

A polar bear can eat 50-60 kilograms of meat (usually seal) for dinner. Translated into 4-year-old units, that is my whole daughter and three of her kindergarten friends.

When hunting is good, the considerate bear will just eat the seal’s skin and blubber, leaving the rest of the meat for other animals. When it’s not so good, a carcass, some rodents or human garbage will do.

So that’s what that’s called

The Japanese term for forest bathing is shinrin-yoku.

When something you recently read about seemingly starts popping up everywhere, that’s the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon (or frequency illusion)

When you decorate something with the goal of faking a different shape or space, often creating an illusion of three-dimensionality where there is none, it’s called Trompe-l'œil. (See also forced perpective and dazzle camouflage.)

An image that contains a smaller image of itself, which contains a smaller image of itself, and so on, is using the Droste effect. Used to find it quite unsettling when I was little. (via Austin Kleon)