The Weekender, February 12, 2021


Before I start: I’m taking Monday off because it’s President’s Day here.

OK! Onward:

One of the things I rarely say, but often think, is how great my readers are. Yes, you! This cartoon, from the always-excellent xkcd, is one of the reasons why.

If you go to the website that’s from and hang your mouse cursor over the image, another part of the message pops up: “Saying ‘what kind of an idiot doesn’t know about the Yellowstone supervolcano’ is so much more boring than telling someone about the Yellowstone supervolcano for the first time.” The comic and that text is a really great observation — and one that you already know.

My newsletter is called “Now I Know,” not “Now You Know,” and that’s intentional. Every day, I’m fortunate enough to be one of the lucky 10,000 to learn something new and fascinating. At some point thereafter, I share it with you. My selection criteria, basically, is whether the fact and story provoked that sense of wonder that you first get when you discover something special — something new to you, even if the rest of the world already knew it. I happen to have a pretty good sense for what stories will provoke the same “wow” moment in others, sure, but that’s not really been how I filter things. If it’s interesting and new to me, that’s usually good enough to share. 

At times, I share things that you may already know about. And in ten years I’ve written this newsletter, I don’t think I’ve gotten more than a half-dozen notes saying, to the effect, “I already knew that” as an insult. On the other hand, I’ve gotten thousands of emails back from people saying “I already knew that!” combined with a “thanks for sharing” or another compliment. Sometimes it’s because I reminded you of the fact and you can remember the joy of learning in the first time. Maybe the story was something that was particularly meaningful to you. Or maybe you’re just happy to know that you learned something before I did :)

Those types of reaction aren’t what I’m going for, but they make my day better. We’re all life-long learners whether we want to be ore not, and all of you are people who not only want to be, but really love not just the discovery, but the journey as well. And that’s pretty special.

Oh, and this is what the Yellowstone Supervolcano is. May it never supererupt.

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: The Little Bit of Sun That Cost a Half-Million Dollars: Three mirrors. A little light.

TuesdayWhen the BBC Grounded Major Tom: I have had this song stuck in my head all week. Sorry if you have, too.

WednesdayAndrew Jackson Has Gone Bananas: It’s not just a sticker.

Thursday: Leasing the Kingdom: Snoop Dogg rents a country.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “The gangster, the general and the prime minister of Bangladesh” (Al Jazeera, 14 minutes, February 2021). The subhead is “the story of how one of Bangladesh’s most notorious gangsters came to have the protection of an army and the loyalty of a leader,” but it really doesn’t do the story justice — the story feels like a Hollywood-level gangster movie, except that it’s real.

2) “A Pryor Love” (The New Yorker, 44 minutes, September 1999). A profile of the late, great comic, Richard Pryor. One note: it goes into a very detailed breakdown about his use of the n-word.

3) “De Cecco Finally Reveals What the Heck Is Going On With Its Bucatini” (Grub Street, 7 minutes, February 2021). A few weeks ago, I shared this story about a bucatini (a shape of pasta) shortage in America. It’s a great story but with an unsatisfying end, because we never actually find out why there’s a shortage. Well, now we do.

A happy Lunar New Year to those who celebrate. Have a great weekend — I’ll be back on Tuesday.