Things I learned this week #23

  • These underwater drawings: Go back to 1860s and ask someone what coral reefs, or fish, or literally any marine life looked like. Go on. I bet they'd tell you they had no idea. How would they? Sure, we'd been sending people down there since the 1500s in these giant metal bells but those were more function-over-form. You couldn't really see out of them. Around the 1400s we maybe started sending people down with metal crates over their head and tubes attached to their suits to feed air to them. But what are they gonna do, take picture on their under-water cameras or pull out a little canvas to sketch the scenery. In the 1860s a guy did literally that latter thing, which is so metal. Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez designed a special 2 feet wide, 3 feet tall diving bell with glass viewing ports for light and the view. He sat in his little underwater cupboard and drew what he saw. He dangled his legs out the bottom so he could move around a little, which is perhaps my favourite mental image. A full version of his published work, entitled ‌Sketches of the Inhabitants, Animal Life and Vegetation in the Lowlands and High Mountains of Ceylon: As Well as of the Submarine Scenery near the Coast Taken from a Diving Bell, can be found here (description of the underwater stuff starts on page 21). (source)
  • This coffee myth: I always assumed I had to drink extra water before/after coffee, because it dehydrated me. Turns out that's a dirty filthy lie. A study in 1928 found that increased coffee consumption was associated with higher urine output. That's right, some science was done at a time before we had invented the synthetic toothbrush bristles found that if you drink more coffee, you also pee more. And then we just carried on believing that coffee made you pee more (which I guess isn't a lie). Some 2016 research investigated caffein consumption and dehydration - finding no evidence that increased caffein consumption works against your hydration. It is worth remembering that coffee isn't just caffeine, however. Either way, don't worry too much about it. (source)
  • This pilgrimage: Chartres Cathedral, near Paris, has a 42-foot single-pathed labyrinth pattern inlayed in their floor. We don't actually know who built it, or why, just that it came about in the early 13th century. Around the time it was constructed, it became impossible for Christians to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem - because of political issues. Luckily we've spent the past eight centuries working together to overcome these woefully antique problems. The labyrinth arose at a time when people wanted, but were unable, to undertake an important journey, in every sense. Chartres Cathedral became a pilgrimage destination for European Christians - with the single winding path acting as a tool for meditation and therapy as the walker made their winding (but definitely small) journey. Single-pathed labyrinths actually have a long, and continuing, history as tools to help guide and sooth thoughts. These single-path labyrinths are still used in therapeutic and mindfulness contexts because they are seemingly complex but they don't let you make choices, and they always lead to successful completion. (source)

What I've Had on Rotation

  • Something New Kokoro by Stefano Guzzetti (Piano, 2020). This past week I've been doing a lot of deep work, which I like to do in silence. So when I come to have music on, I don't want anything that jolts or shocks my system. Guzzetti's Kokoro is a delightful hour of melodic, pleasing, and still complex-in-places piano. It's good for these rainy, dark days where really who wants to leave the house anyway? (links)
  • Something Old Murs 3:16 9th Edition by Murs (Hip Hop, 2004). I absolutely love going back to find some of the great albums and artists of 21st century hip hop. This album has that timeless boombap style of productions: samples, synths, and drum machines. Murs' Have a Nice Life received a lot more critical acclaim, and deserved it (it's a maturer sound - I'll pick it some week), but this 3:16 gives a sense of perspective with its relative immaturity, anger, and hard-stances. Love where you've come from, as well as where you're going - and that's what this album reminded me of. (links)

Cool Reads

  • State of JS 2020 Results. If you're a software engineer who writes for the web, you should read this article. It breaks down responses from almost 25,000 software engineers, and gives State of the Union for frontend technologies, and highlights where things could head in the future. The Svelte framework really shone through this year, and TypeScript continued its dominance in the wider ecosystem.
  • Dense Discovery Issue #120. I've mentioned Dense Discovery in previous editions of things I learned, but I want to give a shoutout to this week's edition in particular. It's such a well curated, thoughtful newsletter run by Kai Brach. I really advise signing up for the newsletter. This week's issue had the following quote which stuck out to me, as someone who has recently found themselves thinking "I really just should get my head down and finish this book", without considering my enjoyment of that book:

... as a society we increasingly see reading as ‘mining’ a text for information instead of it being an exercise of contemplation. He calls it ‘the Silicon Valley view of the mind’ that treats brains like computers: the more effective the input and the data processing, the better and therefore more successful the output. There is a whole category of tech ‘innovation’ that wants to make reading more efficient – from the many speed-reading apps to subscription services that give you the time-saving gist of annoyingly comprehensive books.