The Weekender, January 3, 2020


Happy new year! I hope your 2020 is your best year yet.

Most publications spent the last week looking back at the last year or even the last decade, sharing highlights and occasional lowlights, too. I didn’t. It was a good year for Now I Know — the YouTube channel launched and did okay, and the third book came out. (And you bought it, right?) But those two plugs aside, I don’t like to look backward, in part because my memory isn’t good enough to remember the details and I don’t want to do the work to review what I’ve done. Instead, let’s look forward. Introducing…

The Now I Know Year in Preview

This is a list of things I’m thinking about tackling in 2020. Goals, if you will. Anything you can do to help is great, but really, you’re doing enough just by reading.

1) Fix the malware problem on the website. I think I have someone to help; thanks for all that chimed in to offer their assistance.

2) Make the Patreon campaign a more effective way to support the newsletter. And/or make one-time donations (via PayPal?) an option. A few months back, I put out a survey to gauge your interest in me flipping Now I Know to an ad-free, paid-for service. You didn’t like that idea, so it’s not happening. Don’t worry!

Instead, I’m looking at ways to make Patreon more effective for me. Expect to hear more about this in February, if things go to plan (which they never do). It’ll probably be a straightforward “this is my goal and please consider helping me reach it” type of thing.

3) Find a home for the video content. I’m pretty sure the Now I Know YouTube channel isn’t going to make it. I don’t have the time to really build an audience or the revenue to keep making content for it. It’s good stuff, though, so I am trying to find a publisher to build it. I’ve been failing here and I think this is a long-shot goal. 

4) Figure out better ways to make Now I Know a force for good. I’m thrilled that we collectively raised more than $6,000 for charity:water — we beat my goal by more than 50%! (And if you still want to donate, you can. I wouldn’t mind breaking $10,000!) 

I want to figure out a way to make this happen more often. I only have one birthday a year, so that’s not going to work. And I also don’t want to only ask you to make donations — there should be other ways to leverage my community to help people. So I’m thinking about that, too.

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: The Astronauts Strike Back. This got a few replies saying that it’s apocryphal — and it may be. The astronauts claim it happened but their memories may be filling in blanks incorrectly. On the other hand, I also got a few notes that suggested that the story is true but incomplete: the astronauts, after they returned to Earth, were basically retaliated against for their work stoppage. 

Tuesday: A Whale of a Discovery. I have no idea why I decided to share this one on the last day of 2019. 

Wednesday: See ya, 2019. Hello, 2020! (But no Now I Know that day, sorry.)

Thursday: How a Flush Beat a Checkmate. I think the “you start with an Elo rating of 1200” assertion I made is wrong. 

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “‘Here We Go. The Chaos Is Starting’: An Oral History of Y2K” (Popular Mechanics, 24 minutes, December 2019). In the second half of the 20th century, we built computers. Some of those computers ran software which used two-digit years — we assumed the first two digits would be “19.” But then the year 2000 approached and everyone panicked — what would happen to those computers? This is the story about the efforts to fix the problem before it arrived. (You may get a popup asking you for an email address before you can read the story. It won’t ask for a credit card, but if you’re concerned, just use my address. I get so much junk anyway.)

2) “He’s a Liar, a Con Artist and a Snitch. His Testimony Could Soon Send a Man to His Death.” (ProPublica, 58 minutes, December 2019). The article’s subhead: “Paul Skalnik has a decadeslong criminal record and may be one of the most prolific jailhouse informants in U.S. history. The state of Florida is planning to execute a man based largely on his word.”

At 58 minutes, this is a long article. If you want a shorter version, ProPublica put together a series of tweets that summarize it; you can follow those paths starting here

3) “Confessions of a Digital Nazi Hunter” (New York Times, 5 minutes, December 2017). A few years ago, a journalist, in his own words, built a bot that “exposed white supremacists masquerading as Jews, Muslims, and other minorities on Twitter.” It worked — and then Twitter banned the bot. Here’s his story about what the bot found and why it was (likely unintentionally) shut down. (This is a New York Times link and therefore behind a soft paywall — you get ten free articles a month, and will use up one of them if you click that link.)

Have a great weekend!