Magnetic Notes
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Magnetic Notes

Bleep-O-Matic mini synths soldered together by 7–11 year-olds at a workshop in June.

52 things I learned in 2015

  1. $8 pizza tastes 11% better than $4 pizza, even when the pizza is the same. [Bourree Lam]
  2. In 1990, more than 12 million children died before the age of 5. In 2015, that number will fall to 5.9 million. [Nicholas Kristof]
  3. 18th Century books looked almost exactly like smartphone screens. [Clive Thompson]
  4. Every day, WhatsApp handles twice as many messages as the entire global SMS system — around 40bn messages [Benedict Evans]
  5. Apple uses lasers to tidy up the insides of aluminium iWatches after they’ve been precision machined. Nobody else does that. [Greg Koenig]
  6. More than half of the world’s feed crops will soon be eaten by Chinese pigs [The Economist]
  7. If you’re selling a product based on emotion, leave out the cents (i.e £16). If you expect purchases to be driven by logic, add some cents (ie £15.97). [Nick Kolenda] (More on psychology and pricing in my 2014 talk How to Sell Beer)
  8. When product designers decide that they want a perfectly smooth ‘puller’ on their zips, thousands of Chinese people have to spend 8 hours a day manually aligning pullers with sliders. [Bunnie Huang]
  9. The Mock Prison Riot is held every spring, and features hands-on training and technology exposure to corrections, law enforcement, military, and public safety practitioners from around the world [Mock Prison Riot]
  10. A temple in South India was found to have more than $22 billion in gold hidden away in locked rooms rumoured to be filled with snakes. [Rama Lakshmi]
  11. In China, cigarette companies are allowed to sponsor schools, with slogans like “Genius comes from hard work. Tobacco helps you become talented.” [Andrew Martin]
  12. The Daily Mail now employs 720 journalists, 200 of them in the US. [Mark Sweney] The Guardian employs 964. [Tom Standage]
  13. In Ghana, lots of people are talking about (and buying) a huge, ugly feature phone with a big battery that can power other electronics. Nobody is quite sure what the hook on the top is for. [Emmanuel Quartey]
  14. To encourage use of WeChat payments, TenCent persuaded their advertisers to give away $80m to customers in one day. [Connie Chan]
  15. Amazon’s Alexa bot is not nearly as polite as Siri. iPhone Siri is funnier than Watch Siri. [Ben Hammersley]
  16. There are many Chinese lingerie dealers in Egypt, selling brand names like Laugh Girl, Shady Tex Lingerie, Hot Love Italy Design, and Sexy Fashion Reticulation Alluring. [Peter Hessler]
  17. Uber is delivering 1m rides a day in China, but that’s only 11% of the market, well behind local market leader Didi Kuaidi, which is backed by Alibaba and Tencent. [Sarah Lacy]
  18. Nixie was the perfect 2015 product: a wearable drone that takes selfies. [David Holmes]
  19. A clever way to make an e-commerce site really simple is to completely remove the metaphor of a ‘shopping cart’ [Micah Walter]
  20. Russian TV network NTV broadcasts wall-to-wall anti-propaganda — “non-stop horror stories about how dangerous the country is” to remind the population why they need the strong hand of the Kremlin. [Peter Pomerantsev]
  21. In 1985, the average Haitian woman had six children. Now, it has fallen to 3.1 children. In Bangladesh, women now average 2.2 children. [Nicholas Kristof]
  22. Between January and November this year, 32% of Facebook traffic to publishers disappeared. [Lucia Moses]
  23. In 2010, the Colombian army communicated with FARC hostages using a pop song with a morse code message hidden in the chorus. [Jeff Maysh]
  24. Mark Zuckerberg owns Facebook (1.35 billion users), WhatsApp (700 million), Facebook Messenger (500 million) and Instagram(300 million). [Eli Langer]
  25. It isn’t possible to set the price of a Kindle book as £0.00. If you want your book to be free, you have to set the price as £0.99. Once it goes on sale, you register a complaint with Amazon, saying you’ve seen the book sold elsewhere for free. After a week or two they reduce the price of your book to £0.00. (I found this out while publishing The Dead Media Notebook, which shifted over 1,000 copies once I got the price right).
  26. The music critic of the New Yorker quit his job to annotate lyrics for a startup [Ravi Somaiya & Ben Sisario]
  27. “PR people often use the non-fact-checking British press to plant positive stories about their clients, which then become the basis for fact-checking (based on ‘published reports’) in the U.S.” [Michael Wolff]
  28. The lack of links on Instagram is useful defence against spam [Andrew Watts]
  29. In December 2014, Vox media re-published 88 old stories on their site. They got 500,000 readers. [Matthew Yglesias] (In January, I republished an old article I wrote for Word Magazine in 2008. It got 150k views).
  30. Vinyl Me Please, an analog subscription service, earns $2m/year from 7,300 subscribers [Harley Brown]
  31. Jason Zook’s happy-making morning routine is based around Instagram, Coffee and Calvin & Hobbes — “I can’t remember the last time something showed up in my Instagram feed that was negative.” [Jason Zook]
  32. The peak of CD sales (in 2000) was just 13% higher than the peak of Vinyl & Cassette sales (in 1979) [Michael DeGusta]
  33. Better Records is an online store that specialises in ‘Hot Stampers’. They’re normal, mass-produced vinyl albums from the 60s to 90s that they’ve decided are particularly good sounding (“Amazingly spacious and transparent with tons of rich, warm tubey magic”) so sell for $300-$1,000. [Rene Chun]
  34. Mon-Mon is a stuffed toy that lets children chat with their parents (and learn English) via WeChat [Connie Chan]
  35. Google Glass briefly found a niche among surgeons wanting to record operations. [Gabe Sterne]
  36. It turns out shipping containers are actually a terrible way to make cheap housing. [Mark Hogan]
  37. Facebook groups are helping refugees to smuggle themselves into Europe undercutting professional smugglers. The cost of a passage to Europe is now dropping in the face of competition. [Matthew Brunwasser]
  38. You are 23% safer walking the streets of the US today than 10 years ago. [Thomas Baekdal]
  39. The web is less than 8,000 days old. [Danny Quick]
  40. During the tube strike in February 2014, a significant number of commuters found better routes to work, producing measurable and lasting economic benefit. [Ferdinand Rauch]
  41. In Silicon Valley, people don’t pitch their idea, because ideas are common and rarely original. Instead, they pitch their growth strategy; how they’re going to build not just a customer base, but an organisation employing tens of thousands of people. [Paul Singh]
  42. “Some museum or gallery should just do a show called Things You Can Instagram. That’s all anyone wants.” [Russell Davies]
  43. The US Government regularly publishes a “Notorious Markets List” which highlights physical and online markets that are reported to engage in and facilitate piracy and trademark counterfeiting [US Trade Representative]
  44. The three-way combination of terrible online ads, ad fraud and ad blockers presents an existential threat to considerable chunks of the news media [Exhibit A] [Exhibit B]. And now
  45. Some people in book publishing think that “the eBook threat” was a passing fad that is now over, and that this is a good thing. [Porter Anderson]
  46. In 2011 the Nigerian government handed out 60 million dollars to about 1200 entrepreneurs. Three years later there are hundreds of new companies, generating tons of profit and employing about 7000 new people. Some of the $50,000 grants were given out at random. “What if all the struggle to build infrastructure and services and other stuff was bullshit, and ALL ALONG we should have just been funnelling more cash to the middle and bottom?” [Chris Blattman]
  47. Programmers of self-driving cars will have to make difficult ethical decisions; “moral algorithms will need to accomplish three potentially incompatible objectives: being consistent, not causing public outrage, and not discouraging buyers” [Jean-François Bonnefon]
  48. It costs $300 to move a 40 foot shipping container from Rotterdam to Shanghai. It would cost £275/week to store the same volume at Big Yellow Self Storage in Kennington. [Ryan Peterson]
  49. In the 1980s, only half of girls in developing countries completed elementary school; now, 80 percent do. [Nicholas Kristof]
  50. Only 57 percent of India’s smartphone owners ever turn on their data. [Parmy Olson]
  51. Apple’s new A9 processor for iPhones devices is being manufactured by two different companies, using two entirely different chip designs. This allows Apple to negotiate incredibly hard on price in future, as each company has invested billions in their plants. [Digits to dollars]
  52. White packaging can make food taste less sweet. In 2011, a special-edition white-coloured can of Coke was introduced to raise funds for endangered polar bears. It was withdrawn when consumers complained that Coca-Cola had also changed its secret formula.[Nicola Twilley]



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Tom Whitwell

Consultant at Magnetic (formerly Fluxx), reformed journalist, hardware designer.