Hi everyone! I really appreciate you subscribing to this new endeavor I’m starting and showing your support for my ongoing curiosity (which I really hope benefits you!)
I haven’t got the format entirely locked in yet, but I’m sure I’ll get there soon. For this round I have picked out a selection of articles that I want to highlight, covering a range of topics. A reminder, this newsletter will be similar to the old “Curiosity Recap” posts I used to do on here, but covering fewer articles, and striving to present the key highlight from each.
You may have already come across some of these, but hopefully there are some new nuggets for you.
The first one that I came across that I knew “this is definitely going in the newsletter!” was a post from Reddit’s “Explain like I’m 5” section. The post is titled “What exactly happens to your brain when you feel mentally exhausted?” Considering how much curation/research I do, this is a state of mind I’m definitely familiar with, so I read the post with eagerness. Here was one of the most upvoted explanations:
Your brain cells (neurons), just like any other cells in your body, excrete metabolic wastes. During the day (or night) when you are active and awake, the brain is slightly swollen relative to when you are sleeping and this shrinks the amount of space between the gyri and sulci (mountains and valleys) of the brain. The less space, the less efficiently the cerebrospinal fluid is circulated and cleaned. With this stagnating CSF, the metabolites being released by brain cells just hang around the cells in the brain and this affects the metabolic functions of said cells. All of this occurs until we go to sleep, where the brain shrinks and more room is made for the CSF to be circulated and the metabolites to be cleared. The more tired you are, the more poop your brain is swimming in.
So, sleeping allows the cleaning crew of your brain to get out onto the decks and hose it down. Perhaps a bit squicky but interesting (to me!).
Also on a health related note, I recently saw an article about typical everyday painkillers (Tylenol, Aspirin). From Vox.com comes the article “Should you take Tylenol, Advil, or aspirin for pain? Here’s what the evidence says.”
What’s the difference between Tylenol, Advil, and aspirin? Which is the best to take for pain?
I was surprised when I found out there’s a huge gap between how pain researchers think about this drug and how the public does. More specifically, every researcher I contacted for this piece said some variation of what Andrew Moore, a pain researcher at Oxford University, told me: Tylenol doesn’t actually work that well for pain. To be more exact, “I can’t imagine why anybody would take acetaminophen [Tylenol],” he said.
Moore has done a number of systematic reviews on over-the-counter pain medications, looking at all the available evidence to figure out which ones work best for various problems. I asked him to describe the overall success rates for the most common three: acetaminophen (like Tylenol), ibuprofen (like Advil), and aspirin.
It’s a very interesting and informative article which obviously I recommend you give a read, and perhaps forward along to friends and loved ones.
Next up on the subject of technology, you know how we are told we should “safely remove hardware” before unplugging our USB thumb drives, yet most people pretty much never do? We think it’s harmless (and certainly after doing so hundreds if not thousands of times myself I was of that mindset) but is it? Well, yes and no. From the gozmodo article “Does Safely Ejecting From a USB Port Actually Do Anything?”:
If a file is open, a program reading the file expects to be able to return to it and continue reading. Similarly, write commands may be dispatched to a writing subroutine and forgotten by the main program. If a drive disappears between the time the subroutine is called and the data is written to disk, that data is lost forever.
You can remove a disk at any time, but you are at the mercy of how well programs using the disk cope with the sudden disappearance of that disk.
In the modern computer, many steps have been taken to defend against the capricious and careless removal of media. For example, Windows even introduced a feature called “Optimize for Quick Removal” that makes sure data is written quickly instead of batched up and written efficiently. It is very hard to get people to change habits. If you are doing exclusively reads on a media, safe removal is probably not needed. If you are doing writes, you are probably OK to skip safe removal if you haven’t written recently and you aren’t doing something silly like indexing that disk.
So there you have it, question answered!
Also on the subject of security, now might be a good time to review the post on here about password security myths. It’s very easy to make your password very secure, and the most common ways we’re told to do this actually aren’t that effective.
I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means
You may have heard both the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” before, and if you have, you probably heard them used interchangeably. But as it turns out (and I just learned this myself), they are NOT the same thing, and while it is possible to be both, some people are only one or the other. This comic explains. It boils down to:
Latino — A term that is telling you about geography.
Latino means from Latin America.
Hispanic — A term that is telling you about language.
Hispanic means from a country whose primary language is Spanish.
Maybe you’re not the type of person to correct people when they get stuff like that wrong, but we should try and make the effort now that we know better, to help correct and educate those around us to be more respectful and use cultural identifiers properly.
Speaking of which, here is an image that I found through social media that I really wish we saw more of. Namely, a corporation honestly addressing something and taking a good stance on instead of the usual PR treatment.
This is definitely a step in the right direction, and I think if we saw more of this as a society it would encourage everyone to be more open and proactive about admitting past transgressions and seeking a way to make amends now.
Did You Know?
You are probably pretty used to the idea of boys wearing blue and girls wearing pink, right? You might be surprised to find out that it wasn’t always this way. But if you had to guess, how long do you think that has been “the norm”?
Would you believe less than 100 years? That’s right. As recently as 1918, magazine ads were saying pink for boys and blue for girls. How did it all change? Well, marketing can be a very powerful force!
This video from The Checkout explains “Gendered Marketing,” and I typed out a transcript to the video.
“Pink, being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl”
-Earnshaw Infant’s Department, June 1918
By the early 1970s, the split between girl’s toys and boy’s toys seemed to be eroding. Today, that’s all changed.
They worked out that by segmented the market into narrow demographic groups, they can sell more versions of the same toy.
So the next time one of your friends says “pink is a girl’s colour!” you can show them this video.
Ask a Scientist
This is a cross-section article (health and culture). GMOs are a controversial topic, and perhaps they shouldn’t be as controversial as they are.
I will say that up until last year I was definitely in the anti-GMO camp, until I heard a passionate explanation by science communicator Cara Santa Maria as to why the panic over GMOs is misdirected. She pointed out that yes, Monsanto as a corporation has issues that we need to be aware of (and hold them accountable for), but evil corporation does not necessarily mean evil product/technology (don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, in other words).
Then earlier this year, Bill Nye, another well known and respected scientist and science educator, paid a visit to Monsanto (“Proof he’s the ‘Science Guy’, Bill Nye is changing his mind about GMOs”) to talk to their team of scientists, and he changed his mind:
Nye has actually angered many scientists. Over the years, including in a chapter in his 2014 book “Undeniable,” Nye has suggested that there’s something fundamentally problematic with foods containing GMO crops. He has argued that GMOs may carry environmental risks that we can never rule out with certainty.
Now, Nye seems to have changed his mind. Backstage after an appearance on Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” Nye said an upcoming revision to his book would contain a rewritten chapter on GMOs. “I went to Monsanto,” Nye said, “and I spent a lot of time with the scientists there, and I have revised my outlook, and I’m very excited about telling the world.”
I feel very strongly that it’s important to be able to admit when you were wrong about something, and once you “know better” it is your responsibility to tell people, so I’m glad Bill is doing that, and setting a great example.
No matter what you’re doing (or trying to do), you will run into snags. You will get stuck and hung up temporarily. There are multiple ways to deal with it when it happens, and different ways work for different people. Recently a friend told me about a new tool called Unstuck for when you’re having a “stuck moment.”
It asks you a series of questions to try and figure out what kind of stuck moment you’re having and then gives you a bunch of suggestions to try to get yourself unstuck. I just gave it a try and actually am very impressed as my result was bang on as far as figuring out why I feel stuck.
I think this can be a very useful tool as the different types of questions it asks gets you to take stock of your situation from multiple angles which can lead you to self-insights or revelations that help give you a new idea for action or direction (even before you get your result). So I recommend giving it a try, it’s free!
Video of the Month
I’m subscribed to a few dozen YouTube channels, and most of them are science/education focused (I like to learn!). One of these channels is Smarter Every Day, and one of the more recent (as of this writing) videos on the channel is “The Backwards Brain Bicycle”.
This video pertains to neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to rewire itself to do things it couldn’t do before. In the video, Destin of Smarter Every Day learns to ride a bike with opposite steering (when you turn the handlebars one way, the wheel turns the other way), and finds it much harder than expected (but does eventually become able to do it).
There are lots of insights in the video so it’s definitely worth watching to make you think!
I can actually relate to his experience because 5 years ago I taught myself to use a computer mouse with my non-dominant hand (because my dominant wrist was seemingly showing signs of carpal tunnel syndrome). The first few months were really slow and clumsy and agonizing because a part of my body just would not do what I wanted to, as quickly and precisely as I wanted. But after a few months it got easier, and faster, and more precise, and I’ve been “left-handing” it ever since. Unlike with the bike, going back to my natural dominant hand isn’t hard, it’s just I no longer have the stamina to do it for long without my wrist getting sore again.
I want to recommend a “Podcast of the Month”, but I realize that I won’t be able to do so for very long because I don’t get into new podcasts very often (for various reasons). As with my YouTube consumption habits, I tend to favor more educational media and I know there are lots of podcasts out there but wading through them to find what I’ll like is a slog.
So I think for now I’ll just mention a few that I rather enjoy and see what you can suggest that are like them. A few current faves — Probably Science (sometimes NSFW), NPR Planet Money, Lexicon Valley, and Common Sense with Dan Carlin (yes I also listen to his other show).
I hope you enjoyed the first edition of The Curiosity List! If you did (and even if you didn’t), you can send me feedback. Was it too long? Were certain parts uninteresting? (why?), Did I get a fact wrong? What would you like to see more of? Let me know! And if you have read/watched/heard anything recently that you think would have made a great addition to this, feel free to send it in and tell me why. And you can subscribe here.
I will leave you with a quote that always makes me laugh to myself and remember not to get too caught up in (or dwell on) things for too long:
“Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth”
(sadly I haven’t been able to find a source for this)