Things I learned this week #35

The slightly cold-snap here in London continues. The optimistic sewing and sprouting that took place in my garden (such as it is in urban West London) have largely had to retreat to the comfort of the indoors. Covid-related deaths continue to fall in the UK, as we begin optimistically opening up after a very long winter. I’ve started to have more normal moments - more going into a (socially-distanced) office, going to (socially-distanced) gatherings of people outside of my household. With this spirit of early optimism (and copious tree pollen) in the air, let’s begin:

  • This fact about parachutes: according to a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2018, the authors found the use of parachutes “did not significantly reduce death or major injury”. Rather than a serious study into the efficacy of parachutes for people jumping out of planes (spoiler alert: parachutes will probably stop you from dying, not wearing a parachute almost certainly will not), the authors were taking a tongue-in-teeth approach to the double-blind randomised-trials — the gold standard in medical research. They argue that sometimes we aren’t able to effectively control, model, or simulate real-life situations for the benefit of experimentation. This is important in fields like medical research, where areas of discussion range from deeply personal experiences (like mental health and trauma) to almost purely biomechanic discussions (like vaccine efficacy). Part of expertise and knowledge is (in my humble opinion) knowing what constitutes “proof” or evidence in your current area of study. (source)
  • This (yet) another impact of the pandemic: I like bikes. I think they’re cool. In 2019 I cycled across France on a bike (and I’ve not stopped talking about it since). Since the start of the pandemic, bicycle use in the UK has increased to 120% of its use relative to the year prior. It’s up over 150% on weekends - suggesting that more Brits are getting out for weekend rides. I’ve noticed a much more diverse set of people out on rides during my spring training: it’s not just MAMILs - I’ve seen more women and partners of (presumably) pre-existing cyclists, more amateur groups and also a lot more international riders. The other week I was absorbed by a peloton of six-some Polish (I think) riders on a mix of hybrid and commuter bikes who seemed to be enjoying South London’s cycle superhighways rather a lot. Comparatively, tube and rail use are both down 70%, and cars about 15%. So-called “active travel”, like cycling and walking, is an essential part of meeting carbon emission goals. A journey made by bike represents about 30x lower CO2 emissions than a fossil fuel-burning car, and 10x lower than an electric car. (source)
  • This hat piracy: Benjamin Hornigold was a pirate in the 1700s, and you’ve probably not heard of him. His second in command was Edward Thatch, who went by “Blackbeard”. Hornigold and Thatch ran a thirty gun ship, the most heavily-armed ship in the area at the time, around the Bahamas in the 1700s. Piracy was rife as the Spanish Succession war had come to an end, leaving a lot of sailors and soldiers out of jobs. With no successful re-skilling plan in place, a lot of them too to looting merchant ships around Jamaica and the Bahamas. My favourite story from Hornigold’s time as a pirate is the time he and his crew (about 350 men) got rip-roaringly drunk and threw their hats overboard during the night. The next day they attacked a merchant ship, stole the crew’s hats, left their goods untouched, and carried on. Hornigold later turned pirate-hunter (job title goals), a position at which he was pretty much entirely unsuccessful. (source)

What I’ve had on rotation

  • Something New The Wind by Balmorhea (2021, Contemporary Classical). A couple of really beautiful classical albums came out this week but this is the one I’ve been drawn to. This is the first album in a while which has been produced largely by just Rob Lowe and Michael A. Muller - the original duet of Balmorhea. This shows - there are moments that are so typically them in their sound and composition. Apparently, it was recorded in the same studio as Nils Frahm records, and it has the same acoustic reverence as Frahms can bring. (links)
  • Something Old The Resistance by Muse (2009, Rock). I don’t know why I completely ignored Muse while they were pumping out albums like The Resistance, so I’ve gone back to give them some time. The musicality on this album is lovely, the production does feel a little dated in places but there are some real timeless moments. This isn’t so much a rediscovery as a “getting round to it” discovery. I’m still very glad that I did. (links)

Cool Articles

  • How to avoid death by PowerPoint by David JP Phillips for TEDxStockholm. Everybody hates giving presentations. Everybody hates watching presentations. With these things in mind let’s at least work to make them at least a little bit more focused and usable. Phillips focuses on very actionable and psychology-focused tips for improving your PowerPoints. They’re essentially around limiting the number of things you audience has to focus on. That comes from the visual design as well as the overall structure of your presentation. Give it a watch, it’s a little masterclass in giving good presentations, like watching Steve Jobs introduce an iPhone.