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Remainders: From Isis to Hippos

I’ve set a reasonably modest goal for myself of writing 10 blog posts in April. Let’s see if I can get back on this bike (since I really miss it). This is post number 6! Also, you can now subscribe to the blog by email. Sign up here.

Okay, hopefully you know the drill. Remainders is everything I didn’t get a chance to write about this week. It’s chock full of links and other ephemera. Here’s last week’s edition.

As we all know, Zuckerberg testified before Congress this week. The day before the action I wrote up some thoughts on why we should consider treating Facebook (and the like) as information fiduciaries.

Without a doubt the best thing I read this week was Rukmini Callimachi’s New York Times story on Isis. She collected 15,000 pages of Isis paperwork from Iraq and used it to piece together a story of how they ran the country. The gist of the story is that they were effective bureaucrats and that they used that to fund their operation: “Most accounts of how the Islamic State became the richest terrorist group in the world focus on its black-market oil sales, which at one point brought in as much as $2 million per week, according to some estimates. Yet records recovered in Syria by Mr. Tamimi and analyzed by Ms. Revkin show that the ratio of money earned from taxes versus oil stood at 6:1.”

A few Today I Learned moments:

  • There are apparently lots of weird chess variants including Kriegspiel, where you play blind, and Bughouse, where you pass captured pieces to teammates.
  • ICBM (inter-continental ballistic missiles) were originally called IBMs until the company of the same name asked the Pentagon to change it. (Source: Soldiers of Reason)

I still want to write something bigger about this, but check out the mentions of “coal mining” vs “data mining” in books over the last 200 years:

On the cool things to look at tip, this chart of the evolution of the English Alphabet is amazing.

Most of the media hand wringing about how to best deal with the current news environment is useless, but I liked this Guardian piece on delaying your news consumption. This bit in particular is interesting:

Once, it was the media’s job to sift stories of lasting significance from the rest; today, any publication that sat on a story for a week, to see if it had legs, would get screamed at for suppressing the truth. The passage of time is the best filter for determining what matters. But being late is the one thing no social network, or modern news organisation, can afford.

On the marketing front, this chart about the challenges of trying to communicate more than one message at once is something I wish I had in my toolbox when I was at an agency.

Here’s the explanation from BBH’s Tom Roach:

An analysis by Millward Brown of their Link test database[3] provides evidence of something advertising people have always known instinctively: the more messages you try and communicate, the less likelihood there is of any single message being communicated (‘throw people one tennis ball and they’ll catch it, throw them lots and they’ll drop them all’). And remember this is from people who are being forced to watch your ads in pre-testing research: real people in the real world will remember even less.

This was my favorite joke on Twitter this week:

In case you wondered what it’s like to get swallowed by a hippo, the Guardian has you covered.

And Jason Alexander on Marc Maron’s WTF is really good.

Finally, in case you missed them, here are my most recent posts:

  1. Information Fiduciaries
  2. Remainders: From gold mining to data mining
  3. Why Coke Cost a Nickel for 70 Years Video Style
  4. The Fermi Paradox
  5. Why Videogames Tend Towards Post-Apocalyptic

Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed. Let me know what I missed.

April 13, 2018 // This post is about:

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