The Now I Know Week In Review, June 30, 2023


I don’t really have much to share this week other than the week in review itself, so I’m going to try something new today. Below, you’ll find each of the stories I wrote, but also, additional reading that one of you sent me. I think this is a pretty cool idea, provided that you keep sending me stuff to share — so if you like it, and you see something relevant, send it along! 

MondayWhen Exercise Was Actually Torture: The device? The treadmill. The original use case? Torture, as you’ll see if you click that link. A related story: the treadwheel crane, which predates the treadmill by centuries. That device was used for construction, mainly, not for torture, although I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant to be the operator. Thanks to reader Mike B. for sharing this with me!

TuesdayThe Record-Setting Olympian Who Was Lost to History: The early Olympic Games are weird weird weird. I’ve written about it a lot before, and this is another case of that, but if you need more, no problem. In 2021, Smithsonian shared the story of the 1904 Olympic Marathon, calling it “the strangest ever”  and for good reason — but I’ll not spoil it for you. Thanks to reader Jeanne H. for sharing this follow-up!

Wednesday: Why (Some) Coins Have Ridges: I’ll not spoil the original reason — click the link and read the story to learn more — but reader Bruce D. flagged that “the ridged edge let blind or sight limited folks tell the difference in similize sized coins by feel,” which I didn’t note in the story. That made me wonder how that community can tell different denominations of currency apart, especially in the United States where paper currency is all the same size, regardless of denomination. This story from the Perkins School for the Blind shares that info.

ThursdayNorth Korea’ Crappy Way to Feed People: This deals with “night soil,” and if you don’t know what that is yet, well… I don’t want to spell it out here. But if you do, and want to know if it’s actually a viable way to improve agriculture, the podcast Gastropod coincidentally tackled the topic just a week or so ago; you can find that 45+ minute episode here. I haven’t listened to it (yet?) so I can’t really comment on it beyond that. Thanks to reader Dave B. for sharing this one.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend:

1) “The Romance Scammer on my Sofa” (Atavist, 27 minutes, June 2023). The subhead: “A writer’s quest to find the con artist in Nigeria who duped his mother.” That doesn’t do it justice, though. In late 2015, the scammer connected with the writer’s mother, who had been divorced for more than a decade and looking for companionship. Something sat wrong with the writer and his sibling so they looked into it and realized that their mom was being scammed, and by January 2016, convinced her of that fact. She dropped all contact with “Brian,” the scammer, but the writer couldn’t let it go. Four or five years later, the author decided to go to Nigeria to find “Brian.” This is that story.

2) “Apple Is Taking On Apples in a Truly Weird Trademark Battle” (Wired, 6 minutes, June 2023). Here’s the opening paragraph, below, and I was kind of surprised that it really is about depictions of the fruits. (That said, the real hook for me is the argument, in passing at least, has to do with flags — flag design is one of those niche little things I like to nerd out about.) Thanks to reader Melissa B. for sharing!

The Fruit Uniion Suisse is 111 years old. For most of its history, it has had as its symbol a red apple with a white cross—the Swiss national flag superimposed on one of its most common fruits. But the group, the oldest and largest fruit farmer’s organization in Switzerland, worries it might have to change its logo, because Apple, the tech giant, is trying to gain intellectual property rights over depictions of apples, the fruit.

3) “The Rather Surreal World of Barbie’s Body Double” (New York Times, 6 minutes, June 2023). The Barbie movie is coming out soon and there are stories all over the place about it, but I was still surprised to see one about a body double. For those not familiar with the term, these are people who have the same build, skin tone, etc. as the actors in movies. When the film crew sets up a shot, they need to balance the lighting, set design, etc. to make sure it works. Using the actual actor during that period is a waste of the actor’s time — they could be off shooting another scene or, well, doing basically anything else. Body doubles fill in for the actor, allowing the production crew to take their time to get it right instead of rushing to meet the performer’s schedule. You rarely hear about this, though, and it’s very very rare for a body double to be profiled in the press. This story is a rare glimpse into the magic behind the making of movies.

Have a great weekend!