The Weekender, October 4, 2019


Last week, I asked you to let me know if you liked this format — a more personal, behind-the-scenes look into Now I Know. Almost all the feedback was positive, so, let’s keep it! 

A dime fell out of my pocket and I couldn’t be happier.”

That’s the dime.

Now I Know is, at its core, an exercise in curiosity — when I see something that seems out of place, I want to know why it’s there. Usually, that requires some Googling and perhaps some other research. But a week or so ago, something strange happened: a dime fell out of my pocket.

As I went to pick it up, I realized that it wasn’t an ordinary dime.

The dime is at the top of the page and you probably don’t think much of it — it’s a dime. But here it is again, pictured below, between two other dimes. In this context, it looks a little different than the others, right? That’s because it is different.

It’s a bit less shiny and more white than metallic-looking. That’s because it isn’t made of the copper-nickel alloy that typical dimes are made of. This one is made of silver. 

When it fell out of my pocket, I immediately knew what it is was. And I was thrilled. No, not because I was suddenly rich; yes, it’s worth a good amount more than a regular dime — about 15 times as much. Unfortunately, that means it’s only worth about $1.50, maybe $2 on the high end, so, yeah, it’s more a curiosity than a windfall. But I was still very excited because I’ve been casually on the lookout for one of these dimes for six or seven years. 

Back in 2012-ish, I came across this video on, I think, Reddit. It’s really a great video and you should watch it. An adult son made a mini-documentary of his dad’s hobby: he goes to the bank and gets rolls of dimes, hundreds of dollars worth at a time, looking through each roll for a silver dime. “They’re very easy to spot,” the dad notes, and then demonstrates that yes, they are — if you know what to look for. On average, he comes across about one per $100 (or about 0.1% of dimes), sifting through $5 of dimes in a matter of seconds. I figured great, I can find one, too. I don’t have to hunt like he is; even if I don’t actively inspect each and every dime I come across, I’ll find one sooner or later. I was right.

And no, I don’t look through my dimes. There was really no reason to. I knew that simply knowing that these existed would be enough. I have an eye for seeing things that don’t seem to match their expectations. Combine that with my newfound knowledge about silver dimes — I now know why the occasional dime may look a bit weird — an all I needed was for the dime in question to fall out of my pocket. 

I think it’s an interesting allegory for why I write this newsletter. People ask me how I know all the stuff I write about, and I tell them that I don’t know any of it beforehand (that’s why it’s “Now *I* Know” and not “Now *You* Know”). I just happen to notice when something seems amiss, and then my curiosity kicks in — I have to know why.

And when you don’t gloss over the weird stuff, you end up with a silver dime. It may take seven years, though.

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday and Tuesday: Nothing! I was off for Rosh Hashanah. Shana tova to those who celebrate.

Wednesday: What Canada Has In Common With Romulans. A few people wrote in to tell me that Spock is a Vulcan, not a Romulan. I know! The point is that neither Romulans nor the Bank of Canada were fond of Vulcans in their midsts. (I guess the joke failed.)

Thursday: When Speeding Won’t Get You There Any Faster. Years ago, I was driving home from a 4th of July picnic on the day itself, and I hit really bad traffic. The trip, which should have taken about two hours, took six. A bunch of drivers decided to abuse the breakdown lane, speeding by to the next exit a few miles ahead. When I finally arrived at that exit maybe 20 minutes later, there were dozens of cars lined up — the police had pulled them all over, making them wait. I really appreciated this. 

Also: I’m working with a number of other newsletters on a really neat sweepstakes: two tickets to the Fast Company Innovation Festival in NYC, plus airfare and hotel so you can actually get there and, you know, have somewhere to sleep. 

Enter here, free, and good luck!

And some other things you should check out:

Here are three (or four?) long reads for the weekend.

1) “The MIT Dropouts Who Created Ms. Pac-Man: A 35th-Anniversary Oral History” (Fast Company, 35 minutes). A bunch of friends got bored of Pac-Man, tried to make it better, and along the way made some visual modifications in hopes of avoiding infringing on the original game’s copyrights. How it became a real game is a long story, but the good news is that this is that long story.

2) “Inside the most brutal dictatorship you’ve never heard of” (GQ UK, 21 minutes). The subhead: “Burundi in East Africa is one of the world’s poorest countries – and perhaps the most ignored. The scene of historic ethnic conflict, its messianic president offers stability to an international community terrified of another genocide in the region. But the police state he has finessed now tortures, rapes and kills with near impunity. Saying the wrong thing can be fatal and the search for justice is laced with danger. GQ met those who have fallen victim to laws with no courts and men with no law.”

3) “All 59 people name-dropped in Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’: Where are they now?” (Los Angeles Times, 8 minutes). “Name-dropped” is a bit of a cop-out here; the article mentions Queen Elizabeth II while the actual lyrics simply state “England’s got a new queen,” for example. It’s still good, though. Before clicking, see if you can guess how many of the 59 are still alive today.  

Have a great weekend!