As noted above, on Fridays, I write the “Now I Know Weekender.” It’s basically just a blog post about whatever is on my mind. I can’t remember exactly when I started doing this but the reason was two-fold: one, to alleviate some of the pressure of having to write a new, well-researched story every weekday, and two, because I found it useful to take some time to reflect on Now I Know, what I want to do with the newsletter, and how it impacts you reading these words.
And “reflective” is the word of the day today. This is the Friday before Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and easily the most important day in the Jewish calendar. The ten days starting on Rosh Hashanah (which was last weekend) and ending on Monday (Yom Kippur) are called the “Ten Days of Repentance” or “Ten Days of Awe,” and as Wikipedia’s editors describe, is a week-plus “during which time Jews should meditate on the subject of the holidays and ask for forgiveness from anyone they have wronged.” It’s a very good time to be reflective, generally — and frankly, about things more important than this email newsletter.
I don’t actually meditate or do any deep thinking here; I focus on simply being mindful about my thinking and purposeful in my actions, and like everyone else, I’m nowhere near perfect at either. So I don’t have any wisdom to share here today. But I will say this: I find this week, and Now I Know Fridays, to be extraordinarily positive for me. I’m very metacognitive anyway — I tend to think a lot about my own thought processes — and having outlets where I’m supposed to do that is great. (And I hope you,l as the reader, also appreciate these Weekenders!) And if you can make some time in a busy world to do the same, I definitely recommend it.
Speaking of which, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing next Monday. There won’t be a Now I Know that — I’ll be offline for Yom Kippur. Shana tova and g’mar chatima tova to those who celebrate.
The Now I Know Week In Review
Monday: The Counterintuitive Problem of Dry Counties: I asked one of my kids why dry counties have this bad outcome, and he immediately came up with the answer, so maybe it’s not as counterintuitive as I suggest.
Tuesday: The Fugitive Who Was Put Out to Pasture: The typos in this one (well, the ones I know of) aren’t typos, they’re clues.
Wednesday: How Bird Poop Shaped Our Maps: It was an important commodity. (Commode-ity?)
Thursday: When Being From France Isn’t French Enough: I’m glad this turned out OK because it was bothering me that those who arbitrate the rules could be so rigid as to defeat the obvious purpose of the rules.
And some other things you should check out:
Some long reads (and a podcast episode) for the weekend:
1) “Questions people asked librarians before the Internet” (MPR News, 6 minutes, July 2015). People have been curious forever, and most definitely for the centuries before you could Google their way to the answer to a random question. Librarians often filled that void, and those at the New York Public Library were no exception. They’d take questions over the phone — for example, “why do 18th-century English paintings have so many squirrels in them, and how did they tame them so they wouldn’t bite the painter?” — and go off to find answers. We know this because the librarians at the NYPL recorded many of these questions on note cards and shared them for posterity’s sake. This article shares some of those questions — and some of the answers. (I may have shared this story before; if I did, well, it’s still pretty great and worth a revisit!)
2) “The Darth Vader of Retail: Crazy Eddie” (Ridiculous Crime podcast, 49 minutes, September 2023). I haven’t listened to this yet but it’s on my list and I didn’t want to forget to share it. Crazy Eddie was a discount electronics chain in the 1970s-1980s, which stores throughout the greater New York City area. If, like me, you grew up in that area at the time, you knew Crazy Eddie: they had outlandish television ads that famously screamed that their “prices are insane.” But the actual insanity was in how they ran their accounting: it turned out that Crazy Eddie cooked the books with reckless abandon. I’m looking forward to listening to this when I get a chance, and I’m confident, sight unseen (or audio unheard, I guess?) that you will enjoy.
3) “How Chuck Norris Facts gave birth to the modern meme” (ESPN, 23 minutes, August 2023). A few years ago, I wrote a brief history of the Chuck Norris Facts, which may be the first major Internet meme. I had recently become friends Ian Spector, the guy who started the trend, so I had some great first-hand info. Ian spoke with ESPN to give this deep dive into the story, and as you’d expect, it’s great.
Have a great weekend! I’ll be back on Tuesday.