Sundry · KFC, routines, erasing memories, vodka, mimes, new species

A rainbow fish identified in the Maldives in 2022

Did you know the Japanese ate KFC for Christmas. Different cultures have quite funky traditions for the winter holidays. Are the winter holidays over yet? —

Imitating the morning routines of successful people is useless. Indeed, it is not because you drink the same coffee as a superstar tech CEO that you will be gratified with tons of cash in the bank. Humans are super skilled at imitation (mimesis), and that is a key feature of our species’ growth. But high-status people are able to counter-signal: a CEO might go to work on a bicycle by choice, but if you work at McDonald’s, it might be a necessity (and that you cannot afford a car). So be cautious about imitating high-status people who can afford to counter-signal. Be wiser in the choice of who you imitate! —

There may be 7 levels of busy-ness. I’m curious where do readers of Sundry rank on this list. Are you at level 4 “at capacity” or at level 6 “crushing commitments”? —

There is a drug that can remove the pain from memories. This is about exploiting memory reconsolidation to alleviate the sting from dreadful romantic (yes) memories. It does not erase what happened to you but it changes the impact it has on your life. Still experimental, but interesting. It also raises ethical questions: should we alter memory? —

Alcoholic Vodka based its branding on the idea that drinking is bad. And it is quite compelling indeed. Here’s an example: “This product is extremely harmful to your health and can cause a variety of serious diseases. If you for some reason have to drink it, please drink responsibly. There are many great alternatives to this hazardous beverage” —

To reduce lawlessness in the streets of Bogotá, the mayor resorted to mimes. People who were jaywalking were followed by professional mimes who mocked their every move. This worked well. More than 400 mimes were hired to keep changing people’s behavior in a creative way —

Here are 15 cool animal species discovered in 2022. All is not going to down the toilets. Apparently, we only discovered around 10% of the world’s species. We only identified 80% of mammals, the best studied species. So much to discover! Before we burn it to the ground, of course —

Sundry · well-being, macadamia nuts, how to argue, gut health, Borges on football, processed foods

A macadamia nut

Well-being does indeed rise with income. Remember the studies you saw on Instagram or LinkedIn. They argued: your happiness stabilizes after you earn $75,000 a year. This always sounded odd to me. Why would people want to accumulate more capital then? The dataset for these studies was not great. A new study (with better data) is showing that well-being does not plateau with cash in the bank. Au contraire. Back to work then… —

70% of macadamia nuts come from one tree in Australia. Do you like cookies with macadamia inside? I do not. Still, 70% of the world’s production of these nuts comes from trees in Hawai’i. And all the trees in Hawai’i come from a single, chad-esque tree that originated from Gympie, Australia. Talk about winning the reproduction game. What is the etymology of macadamia you wonder? Named after the friend (John Macadam) of the guy who discovered it —

How to argue more effectively. The video is interesting throughout but it boils down to a simple idea: don’t let your identity come into play. Just like your feelings and emotions do not define you any more than the simple pleasure you get from eating cereal whilst standing in your kitchen and wearing your fav underwear, your belonging to the “idea tribe” should not prevent you from rationally arguing. Your political ideas are not you! —

Jose Luis Borges hated football. And he’s Argentinian. He had a distaste for the aesthetics of the “beautiful game”. But what worried him most was the fans. He linked the blind support of football fans to the rise of nationalism and populism. For him, the dogmatic belief was the same. And it was dangerous —

Your gut health might impact your social skills. That is in fish and mice. Research in humans has not been actively pursued yet. But it is plausible: in recent years, we have discovered that the microbiome is indeed more complex and “brain-like” than previously thought. Careful what you eat! —

Highly processed foods are as addictive as tobacco. Researchers have applied to processed food the same criteria used in the 1988 U.S. Surgeon General’s report that established tobacco’s addictive nature. And boy, it ain’t looking good. What do they mean by addictive? Why, just compulsive use and inability to quit, slow brain alteration, highly reinforcing, intense urges. Careful what you eat 2! —

Is Hexclad cookware a scam? Maybe it’s just me (probably), but I am seeing a lot of ads online for this pan that brings the durability of stainless steel with the convenience of non-stick. In a video, the co-author of Modernist Cuisine reviews the stuff. As always, the truth is not black or white. However, if you’re not too fussy about cooking these pans could still be a good deal —

Sundry · evolution, truffles, Scorsese, parasites, wildfires

A Japanese website today (source:

Some animals, such as the cool-looking platypus, have barely evolved. Some species do not need to alter their form because they already fit with their environment quite well. With less variations than land, the marine world usually yields more stable animals —

Truffle oil is not made with truffles. It is synthetic flavoring. The bits inside are fake too. The shower of truffles you get on your dish sometimes aren’t actual truffles. They are cheap tubers that have nothing to do with the real deal. Today I learned: not two truffles are the same —

Ever heard of Scorsese’s 1973 little-known masterpiece, Goncharov? No? That would be normal. This film was entirely made up by the Tumblr community. This includes posters, soundtracks, and fan fiction. You guessed the lead actor: Robert De Niro —

Why are Japanese websites designed so differently? When Westerners think of Japanese culture, they think of minimalist design. But Japanese websites are very compact, colorful, and text-heavy. Investigator Sabrina Cruz studied this question for 2 months. One of the main findings is that Japanese consumers are more risk-averse: they need a lot of precise information before buying a product —

Can a parasite infection increase risk-taking behavior? Wolves infected with Toxoplasma gondii (the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis) are more likely to either disperse or become pack leaders, which are risky moves. It is interesting to note that parasites can have effects on social dynamics beyond mere infection —

The US is funding Ukraine to defeat Russia at a smaller cost. Since the beginning of the war, I have been wondering about US motives for the tremendous military aid they are giving Ukraine (almost $70B in November, ~5% of the yearly defense budget). A satisfactory argument is that of the proxy war. They are waging an active war against Russia, they are winning and they don’t even have to put American boots on the ground. It’s a win-win scenario against your oldest enemy —

Rain is a startup that fights wildfires. Their claim is that they operate a network of autonomous water-carrying, drone-like helicopters that activate within 10 minutes of ignition. Could this be an example of how technology can help solve problems exacerbated by climate change? —

Sundry · Vienna, walking, doctors, Dostoevsky, sleep

Vienna, Austria

When producing new ideas, people systematically “add” rather than “remove”. For example, when building a Lego structure to represent a spaceship, people will usually add more components rather than subtract them. But it’s not always the best strategy. In design, removing the superfluous is often what leads the user saying “this is simple”. Beware of that bias —

Why Vienna regularly tops the rankings of “most livable cities”. In the early 20th century, Vienna, one of the capitals of the rich Austro-Hungarian Empire enjoyed a population of 2 million people. 100 years later, and the population is the same, the buildings are mostly the same and have strong architectural unity. The combination of a stagnating population and a rich country creates a nice city to live in —

Doctors are being replaced by over-the-counter drugs. Some people think that it is AI that will replace medical practitioners. But in reality, a simpler force is at play. If over-the-counter medicine did not exist, it is estimated that another 56,000 full-time doctors would be needed to accommodate the visits of patients with self-treatable conditions —

Dostoesvsky’s love life is as dramatic as his books. I shall not try to summarize it. So do click on the link if you want to be dazzled. Maria and Fyodor’s story involves frequent trans-Siberian trips and Werther-like passion. True grit. A homage to (what I imagine to be) 19th century Russia —

Can we radically reduce the human need for sleep? And can we do so without significant negative side effects? It might be possible thanks to something called orexin. It is naturally produced by the brain and helps regulate wakefulness and appetite. Looks promising? —

Need inspiration? Talk a walk. For years, the tech people of Silicon Valley, such as the cultish Steve Jobs, have taken meetings while walking. Now we have a study that shows that walking does increase the production of novel ideas. I think it is pretty nice that such a simple, affordable, and convenient physical activity helps you be more creative —

General artificial intelligence is still far away. General AI is similar to Jarvis in the Iron Man films — it can do anything you ask and is not limited to specific applications, such as the recent image generation AIs. In a thought-provoking essay, Alexey Guzey compares the current state of AI (planes) to the fantasy of general AI (birds). He argues that planes are still decades away from displacing most bird jobs —

Sundry · Secularism, nanoplastics, obesity, AI chatbot, sleep tourism, obesity

Is Christianity the origin of secularism? That’s a bold statement, and the one Tom Holland (the author, not the actor) makes in his book Dominion. The idea is that we perceive and value the greco-roman world as the origin of much of our social progress, whereas people at the time despised the weak and the downtrodden. Today we share less with the greco-romans than we may be ready to acknowledge. According to Holland, it is Saint-Augustine’s ideas that were the root for secularism —

Nanoplastics can travel through plants to insects to fish. So the problem with these bits of molten petrol is even harder to solve. I read about alternatives to plastic in fungi and algae. But when or how will these alternatives be as convenient as plastic? —

Millions of people converse daily with an AI to relieve anxiety and feelings of loneliness. You can call the AI and it talks back to you in a computer-generated voice. Since loneliness is rampant and anxiety the curse of our generation, can this a good thing? To note: was built by Eugenia Kuyda when her friend Roman died tragically. She used text messages and all the data she could find to create a bot to “memorialize” him —

Food photos on Instagram are looking less perfect. We have entered a “laissez-faire” era where the production value of food pics has greatly decreased. Why? First there is a democratization of foodie content. Secondly, the desire for authenticity™ increases by the day. And newer generations have entered the fray —

Human inability to forecast the past has no impact on our desire to forecast the future. This is because society values certainty a whole damn lot — and certainty about the future is priceless. How hard it is to accept that models that predict the economy are mostly invalid? Or that economic forecasters are akin to astrologists? One day we might be able to accurately simulate, say, the American economy with its millions of nodes and trillions of interactions. Today, it might be only hubris —

Sleep tourism is increasing throughout the Western world. That is because we are sleep-deprived, people. For example: the Park Hyatt in NYC has opened a large suite with sleep-enhancing amenities (e.g auto-adjusting bed and climate controls). Book now? —

Do you know what causes the obesity epidemic in the USA? Do you think it’s because of diet? Or behaviour? Food quality? Think again argues the author of this blog. Don’t feel like reading 50,000 words about it? The thesis is that there are environmental contaminants that beget obesity, and that this weird hunger is chemically-induced. Extraordinary investigation and a must-read, for when you are really bored —

Sundry · Incense, cognitive control, child painter, bicycles, QR codes

You may now remember loved ones by burning incense in the shape of their favorite hobby. Such as surfing or hiking. The products are called Incense of Memories and are made by Japan’s oldest incense maker, Kameyama —

Working hard all day makes you want to watch Netflix at night. It’s science. Behavioral activity that cannot be dealt with on auto-pilot, such as creative or complex work, is costly to the brain. The more you do it, the lesser the quality of your decisions at night. This is tangential to the idea of “decision fatigue”, which has however never been properly replicated in research —

There’s a 10 year old kid selling paintings for more than $125,000. His name is Andres Valencia and I must say some of his stuff looks quite good? —

Physical buttons outperform touchscreens in new cars. Physical buttons have a precious advantage over touch buttons: felt feedback. This is why you can turn the AC temperature knob without looking, you “feel” how much you’ve turned it. Touchscreens require attention and are thus dangerous. Who thought putting screens everywhere in cars were a good idea? Is everything the iPhone? —

A significant amount of economic activity happens not because it is optimal, but because it is easy. People are hardwired for convenience, and that sometimes goes against their long-term interests. This is what Bob Dylan can teach us about economics, from his 1986 song Brownsville Girl: ‘People don’t do what they believe in / They just do what’s most convenient, then they repent’ —

Can you draw a bicycle? Most people, and especially non-cyclists, will struggle to place the frame, pedals, and chain correctly. The assumption is that we use a lot of visual shortcuts to create models of objects inside our head so as not to have too many things to remember —

Did you know QR (Quick Response) codes were invented by Toyota? That is because barcodes could not be read at certain angles and they needed something to track parts across the manufacturing process —

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Sundry: The 10,000 steps myth, exporting blood, juice ads, restaurant of airplane food


Everybody knows about how walking 10,000 steps a day is good for your health. But did you bother to check why this particular number is right? Neither did I, and apparently it was chosen when a Japanese pedometer manufacturer noticed that the symbol for 万, meaning 10,000, looks like someone walking. The number was in fact never backed by actual research —

AirAsia, a Malaysian airline company, is opening a restaurant. Apparently, people love the food they serve on their planes very much —

How do we make juice commercials? You know, the ones where an orange is dunked into orange juice and it splashes around beautifully? A video shows the behind-the-scenes and it’s pretty amazing —

People in America, usually those less fortunate, are being paid to sell their blood. It is a flourishing business as well, as blood exports surpassed soy or corn. The United States are one of the only developed country which allows this practice. Most countries banned it on medical and ethical grounds —

A brief, animated history of

Deliveroo shares the 100 most popular dishes in the world. A big trend for 2020 onwards is grilled food. It’s more authentic?

A lunch lady in Sweden was told to stop making food so tasty. She baked fresh bread and offered a rich veggie menu. She was told that this practice was unfair to students in other schools. The limits of equality? —

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Sundry: Taxes, rain, the magic of chess, knots, natural selection


Taxes on the wealthy do not diminish their purchasing power. The rich and powerful usually argue that tax increases will prevent them from buying what they want. Especially special, rare items. Turns out, this is an illusion. Yes, disposable income will diminish if taxes increase. But relative purchasing power will not. Because taxes would be applied to all rich people, no other, richer person, will be more able to afford a “special item” than you. Fascinating read —

Researchers have managed to use rain to generate renewable energy. Next: find practical applications —

Rules, a restaurant in London, has been opened continuously since 1798. It kept open during WWII (the owners used wood planks to reinforce the structure during the blitz). It’s not hip, ster or hipster by any standard but I’m sure there must be something unique to its ambiance —

Elementary school students explain why they like chess. This video is magical. These kids are something else (filed under sentences I never thought I’d write) —

A new material may reveal the physics and mathematics of knots. A lot of people are into it —

Utah sends employees to Mexico for lower prescription prices. I mean, I know about the free market and how it regulates itself, etc. Surely we can do better than this invisible hand? —

The simplest, most concise explanation of evolution by natural selection. Here it is: “in populations of organisms, each individual is a bit different from every other; the differences may give that individual a bit of a survival advantage; that individual is more likely to pass on the traits that helped it survive; that trait becomes more widespread; rinse; repeat.” So simple and powerful —

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Sundry: Placebo, Tarkovsky, parking, the key to love, Dalí meets Freud, loss aversion


The Netherlands doesn’t want to be called Holland anymore. Holland is home to three of the most visited cities in the Netherlands: Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. The government is rebranding to reduce overtourism —

What if the key to love was understanding? No, like real understanding. Here’s a metaphor, courtesy of Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk: “If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform —

Parking in NYC’s Upper West Side might experience a steep price increase. By making parking prohibitive, the administration hopes to encourage alternative methods of transportation —

Dalí meets Freud. In 1938, the Spanish painter met his longtime idol. How did it go? Well, we can argue that the master of mind games out mind-gamed a more novice mind-trickster:On being shown the painting, Freud supposedly said, “in classic paintings I look for the unconscious, but in your paintings I look for the conscious.” The comment stung, though Dali wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. But apparently, Freud opened his mind to surrealists since then —

Akira Kurosawa tells the story of his visit on Tarkovsky’s set for Solaris. With the maestro himself —

Loss aversion, an important idea in behavioural design and psychology, might be a fallacy. This is the idea that people experience more displeasure from losing something than they experience happiness from gaining something. “People do not rate the pain of losing $10 to be more intense than the pleasure of gaining $10. People do not report their favorite sports team losing a game will be more impactful than their favorite sports team winning a game.” —

Simply carrying a placebo analgesic, like a fake Panadol, reduce perception of pain. So you don’t even need to swallow the placebo in order to benefit from its effect. Isn’t that amazing? For a quick thought experiment: last time you were very hungry and went to buy a sandwich, didn’t you feel slightly less hungry the moment you bought it and knew that in the near future you would eat it? —

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