Things I learned this week #26

  • This heartening fact: Altruism, more specifically altruistic behaviour, is an action done (at cost) by an individual for the benefit of another individual. Why do humans, and other social animals, engage in altruistic behaviour? How does it makes sense on the evolutionary balance sheets? There is increasing evidence that altruism is an evolved, or more specifically phylogenetic, behaviour and that it is not learned. As social creatures, humans have an innate ability to empathise with each other. It's one of the psychological reasons behind what makes horror films scary and emotional films draining. We're not able to stop ourselves from identifying, and sharing, in the emotional turmoil and mortal dangers we see on the screen. Disney and Pixar have mastered making us feel things for non-human animated things, like toys, souls, and fish. We, individual humans, favour people who have been kind or altruistic to us and we neglect those who have not been. This gives an evolutionary preference to societies where cooperation and bonding is stronger or more common, and therefore where altruism is more prominent. (source, and PDF Download)
  • This cubic poop: The bare-nose wombat poops cuboid pellets. About one hundred little cubes every day - so they're like tiny geometric poop machines. Interestingly, the faeces of wombats in captivity are rounder than their wild-and-free counterparts. This could mean that poop shape is an indicator of overall health and wellbeing. The wombats are the only mammal that make not-round faeces, and to uncover how this even happens some scientists dissected a couple of wombats' intestines. Don't worry, at least one of them was accidentally killed by a vehicle, which makes me wonder if they had the study lined up first, or if it was an impromptu affair? Anyway, the cubic shape comes from the irregular thickness of the animal's intestinal lining. Faeces sits in the intestines for quite some time, while the gut compresses and compacts it to extract water and nutrients. Your guts do this too, by the way, which is cool but also gross to think about. What these wombats have that we (and every other mammal) don't, other than 10x cuter faces, is the ability to compact some parts of the poop harder and faster, and some parts slower and gentler. This difference, somehow idk, produces a shape which isn't a cylinder. Look, if you need some bleach for your mind, just google "bare nose wombat". Here, I'll do it for you. (source)
  • This Italian cyclist: Gino Bartali won the Gira d'Italia (twice) and the Tour de France (once) before the Second World War, and then once again for each after the War. Because he was so well known, during the Second World War he was able to cycle long distances around Tuscany unmolested by newly-Nazi authorities who didn't want the bad press of arresting a local celebrity. Personally I think the Nazis could have made a couple of other, higher impact, decisions if they cared about their public image that much. During this time, Bartali ran messages, photographs for forged documents, and news of raids for the Italian and Jewish resistance groups in the area. In total, these groups helped about 800 Jews escape death, and Bartali himself hid a Jewish family in his cellar - allowing them to escape death. His pivotal role in the resistance at the time largely came to light after the death of Giorgio Nissim, a Jewish accountant from Pisa who died in 2000. Nissim kept details in his diaries. Bartali didn't speak openly about his role, even after The War ended. He's attributed the quote "The good is done, but it is not said. And certain medals hang on the soul, not on the jacket" (though unfortunately I couldn't track down the exact source). (source)

What I've had on rotation

  • Something New: Isles by Bicep (2021, EDM). I've been stepping up my cycling training over the past couple of weeks. I'm back on the turbo trainer for interval and sixty-to-ninety minute training sessions three or so days a week. What I'm saying is there's a reason I've got more into EDM this past couple of weeks, despite the fact that we're still in lockdown. This is a great, upbeat (pun intended), electronic album which isn't monotonous but stays optimistic enough for when the going gets tough and the tough get sweaty. (link)
  • Something Old: When This Is Over by Shad (2006, Hip Hop). This is a hip hop album with a heart of gold, full of good intentions, and little narratives. If you "don't like hip hop" then this might be an album to check out. There's little bragging, violence, or general gaucheness that some people associate with hip hop (not unfairly, to be honest). To me, Shad is more of a storyteller who chose Hip Hop music as his narrative. It was nice to rediscover this album a decade after I had it on heavy rotation circa 2011. Both myself and my taste in music have changed since then, but this stands up. (link)

Cool Articles

This week I've found two beautifully designed, and well considered essays. Sometimes the stars align, and your inbox / random internet wanderings bring you some really beautiful pieces.

  • Newsletters by Robin Rendle. I love newsletters and the independent web. The web should be more about allowing people to do weird, expressive, niche things just because. Rendle outlines this much better than I can/do.
  • Designer as Writer by Stas Aki. (Best viewed on desktop). This is a stunningly designed essay/treatise on the similarities between design and writing. Namely that both are about communicating a clear message and understanding the reader/user. Aki riddles the article with quotes, photos, and examples. It's very good.
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