The Weekender, April 13, 2018

1) “Friday the 13th isn’t unlucky. It’s a meme disguised as superstition” (Vox, 7 minutes, October 2017). The history of Friday the 13th.

But why is Friday the 13th so scary? You probably know, of course, all about how unlucky the number 13 is — even though in terms of classic numerology, it’s just another number. Maybe you suffer from fear of the number 13, a phobia famously called triskaidekaphobia — or specifically fear of Friday the 13th, which is less famously known as paraskevidekatriaphobia.

But why Friday? Why does the simple act of combining the greatest weekday with the worst prime number strike such fear into our hearts?

The answer is a complicated tangle of folklore, history, and good old superstition. Let’s take it a piece at a time.

2) Help Prevent Bullying with Sesame Street’s New Autism Book: As many of you know, by day, I work in marketing at Sesame. For my birthday last year, I asked you to consider a donation to the Sesame Street Yellow Feather Fund, and you responded in incredible fashion. Today, I’m hoping you’ll consider supporting a new project from the Yellow Feather Fund: a Kickstarter campaign. If funded, it will allow Sesame to extend it autism initiative to tackle the next big topic – how to prevent bullying by fostering empathy and compassion. Click here to learn more or to back the Kickstarter.

Even if you don’t or are unable to support the Kickstarter, please do me a favor and share it with others. One in 68 children in the U.S. have an autism diagnosis and the prevalence is probably similar around the world. That means most everyone knows a child or a family affected by autism. You can share the link on Facebook by clicking here. Thank you so much for your consideration!

3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

Monday: A Traffic Jam That’s For the Birds. Or, one caused by them.

Tuesday: The Elevator Light That’s a Total Gas. I made a mistake on this one — the lights are outside the elevator bays, where to-board passengers get onboard and where those exiting exit to. The lights aren’t in the elevators, like I originally stated.

Wednesday: Why You Should Whistle While You Work. But only if you’re on TV.

Thursday: Repetitive Numbers. Repetitive numbers.

4) “A House You Can Buy, But Never Own” (The Atlantic, 15 minutes, April 2018).The subhead: “African Americans in the same neighborhoods decimated by subprime lending are now being targeted with new predatory loan offerings, a lawsuit argues.” This is the story of that lawsuit, and of the rent-to-own universe in general.


5) “Secret Life of a Full-Time Cyborg ” (Narratively, 9 minutes, June 2017).

As a teenager, while volunteering at a local radio and television repair shop (he was too young to get a paying job there), [Steve Mann] immersed himself in what would become his life’s work. He built his first wearable computer, the WearComp 0, out of components from the shop’s basement. It weighed about eighty pounds, and featured a thick helmet with antennae sticking out of the top, a camera viewfinder over the right eye, and several snaking cords attached to a base station worn on his waist. Inside was a battery pack and “image apparatus” to process and store the recordings. Mann admits it was cumbersome and unsightly. But it was portable, and it worked.

The next version of the WearComp, which Mann completed during his high school years – he spent much of his time alone, working on his projects, as a teen – had a joystick and graphical interface, and allowed him to link to other computers via a wireless data connection. It was attached to a computer he wired into a steel-frame backpack.

With these devices, he saw everything through a video lens, and, as with his early version of the Walkman, could block out external “pollution,” as he puts it. He could program the device to recognize and then either block out or alter recurring images – like advertisements – and HDR gave him a true picture of the outside world.

The device got smaller, lighter, and more effective over the years, until in the mid-90s it became the EyeTap, a precursor to Google Glass. Another version he sometimes wears looks like a pair of oversized sunglasses.

6) “How Pop-Ups Took Over America’s Restaurants” (GQ, 10 minutes, March 2018). The subhead: “Limited-edition restaurants, elite chef ‘residencies,’ and other one-night-only dining experiences have become the fastest-moving craze in food. Writer Ryan Bradley investigates why.”

Have a great weekend!