Things I learned this week #32

Following on from International Women's Day last week, news of Sarah Everard's body being discovered broke on the 10th of March, a week after she went missing from Clapham, London. There have been subsequent vigils (and protests) to remind us all that violent and sexual crimes against women are under-reported and under-convicted, and that any fair and just society needs to build systems that don't let people think (let alone know) that they can hurt or sexually assault another person and probably get away with it. It's a bit of a rough or tone-deaf transition, but let's look at some things I learned this week:

  • This charmingly pre-covid advert: I stumbled across this advert for Choices Hotels, which asked (presumably sometime in 2019) "What's your 2020 Vision". Imagine giving your 2021 answer to this question to anyone from 2019, it'd sound fifty shades of dystopian. My 2020 vision was mostly the inside of my house, and being genuinely excited when I could eat dinner outside or go for a walk (also outside). Anyway, what's your 2022 vision? Rats? Locusts? Black Mirror but it's real life? Personally, I'm hoping the dead rise and consume us all.
  • This surprise concert: Yo-Yo Ma, the famed American cellist, recently received the second dose of his vaccine (he's 65, which is pretty cool). He briefly set up shop in the waiting room of the vaccine centre for about 15 minutes, to play for the people waiting for their vaccines. As a classical musician, Ma has probably missed performing live to people, so I imagine this wasn't just a joy because he had received his vaccine. (Guardian video)
  • This forbidden confectionary: It's illegal to buy or sell chewing gum in Singapore. You can buy prescription gum (like nicotine gum), but you have to get it from your doctor. Why is it illegal? Train vandals, that's why. In 1987, the government in Singapore funded a \$5b railway system, and people kept vandalising the door sensors of these trains by sticking their gum to them. So the government looked around, at their gum covered pavements and train sensors and thought enough is enough and outlawed the buying and trading of chewing gum. The total ban was lifted, to allow for medical exceptions, in 1992 when Wrigley, of gum manufacturing fame, lobbied the United States government to explicitly name gum in a legal free trade agreement (the USS-FTA) between the two countries. Despite the country of Singapore having a population of some 3.2 million in 1992 (which would have been about half the population of New York City), the company defended their position. Likely because they didn't want any other country looking over at Singapore's infamously clean train sensors and asking if they should do the same. (source)
  • These wine merchant scales: Lord Byron was one of our first celebrities, namely a poet and a scoundrel. Byron as obsessed with his weight and would travel, sometimes multiple times a day, to Berry Bros. & Rudd, a wine merchant in Covent Garden, to use their scales to weigh himself. Berry Bros. & Rudd also happens to be the oldest wine and spirit merchant in the UK, being founded in 1698, by the way. It being the early nineteenth century these scales weren't the little box that you stand on and look down at, hope in your heart, but rather giant versions of kitchen balancing scales, used for weighing wine barrels. Byron's weight reportedly varied from around 9st to 13st, and he appeared to have yo-yo'd in weight for most of his adult life, starting at Cambridge University and up until his death (at age 36). With scales being so inaccessible, to know how much you weighed was itself a status symbol - and apparently, various members of the gentry (men and women) had their weights recorded in Berry Bros. ledger, though these records haven't all survived. (source)

What I've had on Rotation

  • Something New: Evering Road by Tom Grennan (2021). Grennan's slightly gruff but clear vocals remind me of Dermot Kennedy or James Bay (in his first album). Evering Road is full of poppy ballads and I hope this comes to be one of my albums of Summer 2021. (links)
  • Something Old: What's Going On by Marvin Gaye (1971). My father actually recommended this one on his Facebook page and blog. This album is such a beautiful re-discovery, Gaye was just a talented man, the vocals, instrumentals, and production sit just right on this album. Seriously, the sax in Wholy Holy... my goodness. (link)

Cool Articles

  • The Future of Group Messaging. This is a really great piece about the UI and UX of modern group messaging. There's not a lot to distinguish between how we communicate these days, but various platforms bring their own ideas of what is (not) important. Some focus on instant messages (WhatsApp, iMessage), inboxes (e-mail), or group chats (Slack). Most of these paradigms result in a user experience which is either a) a 90's-style online forum, or b) iMessage/Messenger chat bubbles. These don't reflect the way we do group messages these days: where four people are having three conversations at the same time but one of them is important. As a persistent de-railer of conversations, I contribute to the chaos this post tries to solve, by arguing for a better (more first-party and actually useful) threading metaphor, to allow these conversations to happen in parallel.
  • The edge of our existence: A particle physicist examines the architecture of society .