The Weekender, November 20, 2020


Next week, we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the United States. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m using the short week as an opportunity to take some time off; Monday through Wednesday will be re-runs, there will be no email on Thursday at all, and I have no idea yet what I’ll do on Friday. 

But for now, I want to do some actual thanks giving. Thank you, all, for reading this newsletter. It’s usually a labor of love — I like to learn new things and I really like sharing what I learn with people, and you let that happen. The pandemic has been isolating for us all, and for good reason (you’re helping keep yourself and others safe!), and I’m not immune to that. It’s good to have people to share stuff with. So, again, thank you.

And now, I’m going to ask a quick favor. Many of you know that in some years, typically in conjunction with my birthday, I ask you to make a donation to a charity of my choosing. I’m going to do the same this year, but I don’t know what cause to support. The issues that I care most about are education and poverty, with a bias toward causes that empower the people they help to build more vibrant, successful communities. It’s also important to me that we as a community (that is, you, me, and everyone else reading this) do so together, so if the cause doesn’t have a way for me to set up a group fundraiser, it’s not going to work for me.

My ask is simple: please reply to this email to recommend some causes. The size of the non-profit doesn’t matter to me, nor do other factors like executive salaries or overhead. What matters to me is impact. So if there’s a small non-profit that’s making a major difference in their region, great. If there’s a huge one with a CEO with a seven-figure salary, but they’re having a global effect that changes millions of lives, also great. And if you can’t effectively gauge the impact, that’s okay too; I can vet it myself.

The only other thing I’ll ask you to do: please take a moment to explain to me why I should choose the cause you’re suggesting. Personal anecdotes are great. Data is great. Gut feelings are also great. Whatever motivated you to share the organization with me is what I want to hear.

Thanks again, and have a great turkey day.

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: The American Plan to Invade Canada: Never put in use, which is probably a good thing.

TuesdayHow Did the Squirrel Cross the Road?: I want one of these near my house.

WednesdayThe “I’m Not In Washington” Defense: I actually ended up skimming the court’s opinion here and it’s kind of interesting. But only kind of.

ThursdayThe Pothole Vigilante: I definitely need this guy in my town.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “I Traced My Covid-19 Bubble and It’s Enormous” (New York Times, 12 minutes, November 2020). This resonated with me because my immediate bubble — my immediate family — is operating similarly to the author’s. I knew my “bubble” was larger than that, of course, but the author does the legwork to see just how large it is. And it really is enormous.

2) “How Your Brain Tricks You Into Taking Risks During the Pandemic” (ProPublica, 9 minutes, November 2020). I promise I am not trying to give you advice on what you should and shouldn’t be doing during the pandemic; I just think this is an interesting look into how we think, and how we think we think.

3) “Material Question” (New Yorker, 25 minutes, December 2014). The subhead: “Graphene may be the most remarkable substance ever discovered. But what’s it for?” It’s strong, cheap, and as you’ll see, not very useful. Thanks to reader Nick J. for sharing!

And a bonus item: A house for sale, with pictures you DEFINITELY should scroll through. As I said on Twitter, I literally cackled. And I do not cackle often.

Have a great weekend!