The Weekender, April 26, 2019

1) “Physicians Get Addicted Too” (The Atlantic, 21 minutes, April 2019). The subhead: “Lou Ortenzio was a trusted West Virginia doctor who got his patients—and himself—hooked on opioids. Now he’s trying to rescue his community from an epidemic he helped start.”

Well past seven one evening in 1988, after the nurses and the office manager had gone home, as he prepared to see the last of his patients and return some phone calls, Dr. Lou Ortenzio stopped by the cupboard where the drug samples were kept.

Ortenzio, a 35-year-old family practitioner in Clarksburg, West Virginia, reached for a box of extra-strength Vicodin. The box contained 20 pills, wrapped in foil. Each pill combined 750 milligrams of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, with 7.5 milligrams of hydrocodone, an opioid painkiller.

Ortenzio routinely saw patients long after normal office hours ended. Attempting to keep up with the workload on this day, he had grown weary and was suffering from a tension headache; he needed something to keep him going. He unwrapped a pill, a sample left by a drug-company sales rep, certain that no one would ever know he’d taken it. Ortenzio popped the pill in his mouth.

[. . . ]

As a physician in a small community with limited resources, Ortenzio did a bit of everything: He made rounds in a hospital intensive-care unit and made house calls; he provided obstetric and hospice care. Ortenzio loved his work. But it never seemed to end. He started missing dinners with his wife and children. The long hours and high stress taxed his own health. He had trouble sleeping, and gained weight. It took many years, but what began with that one Vicodin eventually grew into a crippling addiction that cost Ortenzio everything he held dear: his family, his practice, his reputation.

2) “Why You Can No Longer Get Lost in the Crowd” (New York Times, 7 minutes, Aprils 2019). An interesting look on “practical obscurity,” that is, “information that was technically available to the public but could be found only by spending an unrealistic amount of time and effort,” which has waned as technology has made it increasingly easy to find out a lot of information about nearly anyone.

3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

MondayThe Surströmming Offensive — this one’s a bit fishy.

Tuesday: Why These Windows Don’t Have Windows — Taxes are weird.

Wednesday: Where No Sandwich Has Gone Before — Space. The sandwich frontier.

Thursday: The Bug in the Plan — when a mosquito bears witness against an alleged criminal.


4) From the Now I Know YouTube channel: Are X-Men (Legally) Human?

If you’re not familiar with the X-Men, the good guy mutants think that mutants are just innocent people with genetic mutations (and special powers); the bad guy mutants think that mutants are their own, non-human species. Basically.

Anyhoo, here’s why Marvel, the creators of the X-Men, sided with the bad guys — when it came to the U.S. legal system, at least.

5) “Hand dryers v paper towels: the surprisingly dirty fight for the right to dry your hands” (The Guardian, 27 minutes, April 2019). The title alone should earn this one a click.

In the summer of 2005, a Chicago marketing consultant named George Campbell received a tantalising call from a headhunter. Was he open to an interview at Dyson? The company was secretively preparing to launch a new appliance, and it needed a sales strategy for the US: that was all the headhunter would divulge. Campbell was excited; he saw Dyson as “a company with the iconic quality of Apple, and an ability to take a basic product like a vacuum cleaner and make an 80% margin on it”.

He went along to Dyson’s office, a factory-like space with lofty ceilings and timber beams next to the Chicago river. In his first few conversations, he recalled, they wouldn’t even reveal what the product was. Finally, Campbell was told in strict confidence: it was a hand dryer. And he’d thought he was joining Dyson for the glamour. “My heart dropped to my stomach.”

The Dyson Airblade, released in 2006, was no ordinary hand dryer. The first model – which asked for dripping hands to be inserted into its frowny mouth – had a curvilinear form and brushed silver body. It looked so futuristic that it was used as set dressing on the Star Trek reboot in 2009. Inside the dryer, the air blew at speeds exceeding 400mph; its filter claimed to capture 99.95% of all particles 0.3 microns or bigger in size from washroom air; it cost about £1,000. The Airblade was not the first high-speed dryer, but its luxe appeal and Dyson’s brash marketing revolutionised the restroom universe; more and more, the hand dryer began to seem like a vital accessory to class up a joint. After the Airblade’s launch, a battle began to boil, pitting the dryer industry against the world’s most powerful hand-drying lobby: Big Towel.

6) “Meet Peccy, the bizarre, beloved mascot you didn’t know Amazon had” (Fast Company, 8 minutes, April 2019). If you work at Amazon, you apparently know a lot about Peccy. If not, you’ve probably never heard of him (it?) before. Thanks to reader Andrew M. for the suggestion.

Have a great weekend!