52 Things Tom Whitwell Learned in 2022

[This is from the Magnetic Notes feature in Medium.com. Medium is (from their website):

The best ideas can change who we are. Medium is where those ideas take shape, take off, and spark powerful conversations. We’re an open platform where over 100 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Our purpose is to spread these ideas and deepen understanding of the world.

We’re creating a new model for digital publishing. One that supports nuance, complexity, and vital storytelling without giving in to the incentives of advertising. It’s an environment that’s open to everyone but promotes substance and authenticity. And it’s where deeper connections forged between readers and writers can lead to discovery and growth. Together with millions of collaborators, we’re building a trusted and vibrant ecosystem fueled by important ideas and the people who think about them.

In other words, Medium is just another Silverback Digest wannabe. SB SM]

A blue whale’s tail appearing from Lake Zug, Switzerland. Image generated by Dalle-2 in July 2022. [Get it? Whales don’t live in lakes, especially in landlocked Switzerland. SB SM]

This year I worked on fascinating projects in energy, media and health* at Magnetic, and learned many learnings.

  1. A bolt of lightning contains about ¼ of a kilowatt-hour of power. Even with recent energy price rises, it’s only worth about 9 pence. [Sarah Jensen — although other sources suggest bigger lightning bolts could be worth more as much as £90]
  2. A ‘zhènlóuqì’ is an electrical floor shaker sold on Taobao, used to get revenge on noisy neighbours. [Wang Xinyi]
  3. In the UK and Australia, people tend to turn left when entering a building. In the US, they turn right. It’s important to remember if you’re booking a trade show booth. [Marc Abrahams]
  4. Using ellipsis in writing signifes the writer is Gen-X or Boomer and can read as confusing, passive-aggressive or even weirdly flirtatious to digital natives. [Kaye Whitehead, from Gretchen McCulloch]
  5. CountThings is an very successful app that counts things. It costs $120/month. The templates page shows the things people pay to count. [CountThings]
  6. Heavenbanning is a hypothetical way to moderate social networks. Instead of being thrown off the platform, bad actors have all their followers replaced with sycophantic AI models that constantly agree and praise them. Real humans never interact with them. [Asara Near]
  7. In 1739, there were three times more coffee shops per person in London than there are today. [Ben Leggett and Andrew Seymour]
  8. YouTuber Mr Beast employs a team of six people to make thumbnails for his videos. Thumbnails are planned before the video is shot. [Amanda Perelli]
  9. Fees from music playing on Peloton are “a top 10 account for pretty much all major record labels right now.” [Jay Gilbert via Conor McNicholas]
  10. In August, the world’s largest ‘hog hotel’ opened in Hubei, China. Up to 600,000 pigs live in the 26-storey tower block, eventually producing 54,000 tons of pork per year. The site has twice as much floor space as The Shard in London. [Ye Zhanhang]
  11. Musicians make life hard for programmers. There are nine different bands called Emperor, one band called Eximperituserqethhzebibšiptugakkathšulweliarzaxułum, and a side project called ⣎⡇ꉺლ༽இ•̛)ྀ◞ ༎ຶ ༽ৣৢ؞ৢ؞ؖ ꉺლ. [Julien Voisin]
  12. 37 per cent of the world’s population, 2.9 billion people, have never used the Internet. [International Telecommunication Union]
  13. Older travellers use airport toilets to hear flight announcements, because acoustics are much clearer. [Christopher DeWolf via Ben Terrett]
  14. There’s a warehouse in Israel full of claw machines you can play remotely. They send the prize if you win. [Tim Bradshaw]
  15. Dog Buttons are a growth industry: dogs can learn to communicate by pushing different coloured buttons to ask for things. [Soshi Parks]
  16. Racing driver Ross Chastain qualified for a championship by using a move he learned while playing a Nintendo racing game when he was 8 years old. [Alana Hagues]
  17. Data centres will consume 29% of Ireland’s electricity by 2028. [Pádraig Hoare via Ed Curwen]
  18. Teenage smoking seems to be a solved problem. [John Oyston via Dean Wilson]
  19. No, you can’t save £30 per year by switching off ‘standby’ devices. No, watching 30 minutes of Netflix isn’t the equivalent of driving 4 miles in a car. [Terence Eden and George Kamiya]
  20. If you want a question answered on the Internet, post a wrong answer first. [keyoftypeof]
  21. Someone is writing 16-digit numbers across walls all over Walthamstow [Reuben Binns]
  22. Applicants are 1.5% more likely to be granted asylum by a US judge the day after their city’s NFL team won. [Daniel L. Chen]
  23. The saga of broken McDonald’s Ice Cream machines is the perfect parable of a plucky startup and a slow incumbent. [Andy Greenberg]
  24. 40% of global shipping involves moving fossil and other fuels (oil, gas, wood pellets) around. More renewables (solar, wind, nuclear, geo), means fewer ships. [Bill McKibben]
  25. A man’s partner’s competitiveness increases their future income. Their own competitiveness makes little difference. [David Ong]
  26. China is building 450 gigawatts of solar and wind power generation in the Gobi desert. That’s six times the total power generation capacity of the UK. [Muyu Xu]
  27. A deep learning model trained on 85,000 eyes can tell male from female eyeballs with 87% accuracy but no one knows why. [Edward Korot & co]
  28. In 2007, a nutritionist called Lori Baker accidentally discovered she was the greatest Tetris player in the world [Billy Baker]
  29. Japanese atom bomb survivors lived five years longer and were less likely to get cancer than average Japanese citizens. [Shizuyo Sutou]
  30. In the 1920s, new car sales were falling, so the industry promoted the term ‘jaywalking’ to blame accidents on pedestrians, rather than aggressive drivers. [Peter Norton via Clive Thompson]
  31. Morse Code keys are a high-end luxury item for ham radio enthusiasts, with gold plating and carbon fibre parts, costing €500+. [Pietro Begali]
  32. Before the industrial revolution, silver didn’t need to be polished, because there was less sulfur in the atmosphere (unless you lived near a volcano). [Michael Briggs]
  33. For eight years, some Xerox photocopiers had a bug that could silently change numbers in copies. [Matt Webb]
  34. In 1985, Alan Sugar’s Amstrad launched a computer with a non-functioning 8kb memory chip attached to the motherboard in order to get round Spanish taxes. [deepfb]
  35. Consumer goods branding existed in the ancient city of Uruk, Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago. ‘Temple-factories’ mass-produced, packaged and labelled goods like bread, beer, wine and woollen clothes. [David Wengrow]
  36. Percussionist Emil Richards played the finger clicks in The Addams Family theme, the bongos in Mission Impossible and the xylophone in the theme for The Simpsons. [Russell Davies]
  37. Egg yolk colour preferences are regional: Northern Europeans like paler yolks, Mediterraneans a deeper orange. In South Africa, white corn makes egg yolks super pale. Farmers use the DSM Yolk Fan to pick the perfect colour (and feed additive). [Ari LeVaux]
  38. The Chinese government has launched a crackdown on ‘weird’ and ‘ugly’ fonts. [Wu Peiyue]
  39. Researchers asked 100 people whether a reasonable person would unlock their phone and give it to an experimenter to search through. Most said no. Then the researchers asked 103 other people to unlock their phone and give it to them. 100 of them complied. [Rob Henderson]
  40. The best paid lifeguard in LA received just over $500,000 in 2021. In Australia, Bondi Beach lifeguards are paid less than A$70k. [Adam Andrzejewski & Andrew Taylor]
  41. It was once fashionable in Paris to send one’s linens to be bleached in the sun of Saint-Domingue (Haiti). In 1782, after a fleet of 100 ships arrived from the colonies… “Paris was full of men and women who wore the handsome linen bleached in Saint-Domingue. This linen drew everyone’s eyes.” [Sofi Thanhauser]
  42. Marc Jacobs and a midwestern university have settled their legal battle after both trying to trademark the word ‘THE’, the most common word in English. [Mark Williams]
  43. A Chinese woman created over 200 fictional articles about Russian history on Chinese Wikipedia, writing millions of words of completely imagined history. It took ten years for anyone to notice. [Wu Peiyue]
  44. In March 1967, the CIA tested Acoustic Kitty, a live cat with a microphone, battery and antenna surgically implanted. Sadly, on its first public trial, the unfortunate animal was run over by a taxi. [Nate Jones]
  45. We should all learn to use conversational doorknobs. [Adam Mastroianni]
  46. The creators of Sim City had a problem with car parking: “We realised there were way too many parking lots in the real world. Our game was going to be really boring if it was proportional in terms of parking lots.” [Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley]
  47. The International OCD Foundation has a helpful 9-step photographic rating of household clutter as a way to diagnose hoarding disorder. Level 3 is “standard household clutter”, while level 7 “poses significant safeguarding issues.” [Hoarding Center via Jon Day]
  48. 70% of Gen Z viewers tend to watch videos with subtitles, which is why a team at Netflix worked extra hard on the subtitles for Stranger Things. [Matt Zajechowski] (This year at Magnetic I spent a long time listening to Gen Z talk about the future of TV for Channel 4)
  49. Wasps are hand-reared by villagers in Kushihara, Japan, where wasp tempura and (delicious looking) grilled sticky rice coated in a sauce made of miso, peanuts and wasp larvae are local specialities. [Soleil Ho]
  50. The push button was a controversial new interface when it became popular in the 1880s. [Rachel Plotnick via Matthew Wills]
  51. Fondue was popularised by the Swiss cheese cartel. [Robert Smith]
  52. During a French Navy exercise, a frigate was (virtually) destroyed despite radio silence. The (virtual) enemy was able to roughly locate the ship via an (real) active Snapchat account from one of the sailors. [Arthur Laudrain]

Tom Whitwell

8.4K Followers

Consultant at Magnetic (formerly Fluxx), reformed journalist, hardware designer.

Previous 52 things lists: 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021

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