Things I learned this week #29

  • This lineage of cats: Chartwell House, in Kent, England, was the home of Winston Churchill. It’s now owned and operated by the National Trust, a British institution, allowing visitors to see the gardens and houses. During Churchill’s life, he had a marmalade (white and ginger) cat, called Jock. A few months after Chartwell House was handed over to the National Trust by the Churchill family, the family made the request that there always be a marmalade cat with a white bib and four ginger paws. Presently, Jock VII (picture) reigns the house, while Jock VI (picture) is living in a peaceful retirement with one of the house’s staff. The public life wasn’t befitting the older gentleman, so the sprightly Jock VII has taken the public-facing duties, allowing his predecessor to take the rest he deserves. (source)
  • This fact about smartphones: Smartphones are hella distracting, y’all. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been making a special effort to reduce how much I allow myself to be distracted during work (and other time). We all know that deep work requires uninterrupted time and concentration but that’s so… boring. So not fun. And our phones really want our attention. Or to be more accurate, some of the biggest and richest companies in the world are employing some of the cleverest people alive to make us want to spend more of our time, more often, on apps and platforms. And it’s working, Instagram is very relatable. In some research which examined the effect of even being near your phone, the researchers found a 10% reduction on working memory (i.e. how many things can you hold in your immediate attention and memory) and Fluid Intelligence (your ability to solve novel problems, independent of previously acquired skills). This was when the participants left their phone in their bag, and were uninterrupted by it, compared to when they were asked to leave it in another room. (Summary link and DOI: 10.1086/691462)
  • This board game: CoraQuest is an adorable co-op fantasy tabletop game for up to four people. It was created by a father-and-daughter duo Dan and eight-year-old Cora during the Covid lockdown in the UK. It initially started as a homework project, which allowed Dan to encourage his daughter to do art, creative writing, maths, and computing but evolved into a fully fledged game. If I can step in here a minute and preach the importance of project-based learning… guys it’s important and it’s practically the only kind of learning we do once we leave school so why is it never really done in school? Dan, who has been a gamer and D&D enthusiast, was able to offer support and guidance to the team, and shared it with other play testers and families during the development. Both families and other game developers ended up pitching in advice, feedback, and even some artistic assets. How encouraging this must have been for Cora! The end result to all this is a Kickstarter campaign which raised £130,000 more than its £12k target, being supported from over 5,000 individuals. This is such a wholesome story, my goodness. (source)
  • This fourteenth century witchcraft accusation: Alice Kyteler was the first person in Ireland to be condemned of Witchcraft. The accusations against Alice ran from spiritual (denying the Christian faith and attempting to overpower the church) to corporal (murdering three husbands) to somewhere in between (having a sexual affair with a demon). I’m actually pretty sad Kyteler didn’t leave a memoire behind. Alice’s only real sin seems to be a particular taste in men, specifically rich money lenders: she just kept marrying them until they died. Which they did, three times with three separate men. And then she’d marry another one (who also died, more likely than not). What I will say is that at some point around the untimely death of your second and very rich husband, people are going to start getting suspicious. Especially in small town Ireland in the the 1320s. By the time her fourth husband started falling ill, people were pretty suspicious and so naturally accused her of witchcraft. Nothing so fortunate may happen to a woman who is not a witch, so the church said. What followed was a protracted and political attempt to convict Kyteler. Given that she had become so socially prominent (and rich, because of those dead husbands), accusing her and taking her in for questioning was a very difficult affair. Like impeaching someone. The bishop in charge of convicting her was waylaid and even imprisoned while he tried to make the formal accusations. Say what you like about Kyteler (like “this woman is trying to corrupt good Christian men by selling them love and hate potions”, true story) but she wasn’t a powerless fool. After several months, the church kidnapped and tortured one of Kyteler’s servants (Petronilla de Meath), who confessed to witchcraft and implicated Kyteler in the acts. Let’s not ask how using torture to extract (almost certainly fake) confessions gives you the moral upper hand. It was a simpler time. Kyteler high-tailed it out of the historical records after that, so it was likely that she was never caught. If she was captured and killed the church would have gloated all over the historical record. She may have fled to England, what a story! (source)

What I’ve Had on Rotation

  • Something New Super Monster by Claud (2021, Pop). I don’t know where this new wave of pop has come from. I’d like to say Covid’s had us all making music in our bedrooms for the past year but I think we’re starting to hear from people who’ve been making music in the bedroom for the last 4-5 years. Gen Z. I’m talking about Gen Z. I’m new to Claud, their music has a fresh light pop vibe, which is great as we’re coming into spring. They’re also signed to Phoebe Bridger’s Saddest Factory record label, which is a good thumbs up for me. (links)
  • Something Old Poverty’s Paradise by Naughty by Nature (1995, Hip Hop). It’s old school hip hop, and the intro skit track starts with the sound of a live crowd which we all miss. It even gets better from there, which is great too. This is a real ’90s New York Hip Hop vibe, drum machines, reverb, and Nas-style horn sample sequences. They rhyme “everybaaaaady” with “paaaaaahrdy” and tell you to clap your hands but still have a gritty quality to them. (links)

Cool Articles

  • This tweet from weetabix. A light-hearted tweet that I think did the rounds a few weeks ago. Truly horrifying, I’m not okay.
  • Shit’s Broken: Why we need mindful notification and how to design them by Clo S for This Too Shall Grow. The attention economy is a good way to think about, and make better decisions in, the modern world. It’s easy to forget about because people and companies are designing things to stop you thinking about it. Sorry to get all tinfoil hat here. This article was a nice reminder about understanding what is important when all our apps and platforms are telling us that they alone are important. I particularly like this quote from Clo, which I think summarises the problem nicely: “the LinkedIn announcement that someone you don’t know started a new job, are given the same importance as an email from your client saying they accepted your budget”. The author goes on to talk about how you can just go ahead and turn off anything that isn’t important. And if you’re involved in making products, design mindful notifications that align the urgency and prominence of a notification with that of its content.

Fun Things

  • I Miss my Bar. It’s a dark-noise style machine but with bar sounds. Put it on and pretend you’re outside your own house.