Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.

– Jean-Paul Sartre


Featured artist: Abbey Lossing

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery

Welcome to Issue 119!

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A year ago today, I wrote this summary of a continent on fire. Australia’s Black Summer – as it is now known – had everyone terrified but eventually turned into a non-event in the media. Before we could grieve and take stock of the loss, a new virus kept us busy stockpiling food and applying for government grants to make rent.

Fresh food and fresh air, trustworthy news, toilet paper, the right to protest, visiting friends, public parks, democratic institutions, non-privatised healthcare, non-violent police, restaurants, leaders who listen to the bloody experts... If 2020 had a slogan it would be ‘The year you stop taking shit for granted!‘ – in all caps.

What remains of 2020, for me at least, is this strong sense of fragility; that nothing is inevitable – not the next family visit or the next election, nor the food on supermarket shelves. Natural or human-made, the systems around us have demonstrated their delicacy and impermanence. As a result we’ve become more fragile as individuals, too. Our future feels more brittle.

I’m not one for new year’s resolutions. In the face of what we just went through, it feels kind of futile to make any long-term plans. If I had to pick a theme for the coming twelve months though, it would have to include more appreciation for the many things I took for granted, and more resolve to stand up and fight for them when it matters.

Happy 2021 everyone, a year that I hope feels less fragile and more sturdy for you all. – Kai

Dense Discovery is a weekly newsletter at the intersection of tech, design, sustainability, and culture read by over 43,000 subscribers. Do you have a product or service to promote? Sponsor an issue or book a classified.


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Apps & Sites

Timestripe →

Goal-oriented planner

This looks like a nice addition to the Kanban board-style planner segment with a timescale view that helps you organise tasks into days, weeks, months, etc.

Dsxyliea →

Simulating dyslexia

I sometimes struggle with reading and writing because of a very mild form of dyslexia. This experiment hits close to home; it simulates the reading experience of a dyslexic person.

Typefully →

Tweet-thread publisher

Ever wanted to publish a long thread of ideas on Twitter and found the default interface too cumbersome? Typefully offers a simple editor that helps you split your text into tweet-sized chunks.

Chrome is Bad →

Does Chrome make your Mac slow?

If your Mac feels sluggish, try (properly) removing Chrome as explained here. I don’t know enough about the technical details to tell whether this works as promised, but it’s worth a shot anyway. I used it as an excuse to remove Chrome for good. (I’m currently back on Safari with Firefox as an alternative.)


Worthy Five: Ryan Norbauer


Five recommendations by retro-futurist industrial designer Ryan Norbauer

A cause worth supporting:

Radical tolerance. Can you practice compassion for – and good-faith dialogue with – other people, including whose ideas you find utterly abhorrent or distasteful? Social-media tribalism makes it feel impossible, but it’s the foundation of a non-violent society.

An Instagram account worth following: beautiful images transporting us back to a blissful time of hope for digital technology’s ability to create a better future for humanity.

A concept worth understanding:

Naïve rationalism and epistemic hubris. Nassim Taleb’s über-skeptical terms for the quasi-religious belief that all aspects of the world are intellectually tractable and can be quantitatively modeled to guide decision making, especially in domains where that belief is contrary to evidence and thus itself irrational.

A recipe worth trying:

Nougat de Montélimar is the most difficult recipe I’ve ever attempted. Temperature differences of just a few degrees can radically alter the result.

A book worth reading:

Straw Dogs by philosopher John Gray challenged my thinking on pretty much everything – the mark of a good book. It’s a series of meditations on (the very Zen/Stoic/Taoist) idea that thinking about the world through verbally-constructed moral narratives and utopian projects, both religious and nominally secular, only makes us miserable – and has often led to history’s worst evils.




The Art of Noticing →

Unlearning our distraction habits

An illustrated mindfulness exercise book to help you re-tune your attention: “Through a series of simple and playful exercises – 131 of them – Walker maps ways for you to become a clearer thinker, a better listener, a more creative workplace colleague and finally, to rediscover your sense of passion and to notice what really matters to you.”


The Preserve Journal →

A more resilient, responsible food culture

The Preserve Journal is an independent print magazine that invites readers “to look beyond the bite of food on their fork, and to see the whole picture of their meal and their role in it.” Through a diverse range of voices, the publication wants to offer fresh perspectives on our eating habits as a “concrete resistance to the homogenised, industrialised and capitalistic structures that predominate today’s food culture”.


Overheard on Twitter

I can’t believe Zoom gives away their best feature, limiting meetings to 40 minutes, for free.



Food For Thought

An Engineering Argument for Basic Income →


I absolutely loved this piece. Scott Santens uses his engineering background to argue for a universal basic income as a common-sense fail safe: “We have engineered a life support system without fault tolerance, and we did it because engineers didn’t design the system. Politicians did. Special interests did. And it’s built on antiquated job-centric moralism instead of contemporary life-centric realism. Realism demands that we recognize human beings need money to live within a system of private property that withholds legal access to basic resources on the condition of having money or qualifying for government assistance. It is mission critical for people to have money to spend on what they need to live. So just make sure they have it, by supplying it to everyone unconditionally.”

Hail the maintainers →


This article reaffirmed my feeling that people in tech are addicted to a false notion of the value of innovation and entrepreneurship. “Despite recurring fantasies about the end of work or the automation of everything, the central fact of our industrial civilisation is labour, and most of this work falls far outside the realm of innovation. Inventors and innovators are a small slice – perhaps somewhere around one per cent – of this workforce. If gadgets are to be profitable, corporations need people to manufacture, sell, and distribute them.”

The Art of Decision-Making →


I certainly found myself in this piece: I’m quite resolved when it comes to making big life decisions (marriage, kids, etc.) but spend way too much time deciding what book to read next. “One of the paradoxes of life is that our big decisions are often less calculated than our small ones are. We agonize over what to stream on Netflix, then let TV shows persuade us to move to New York; buying a new laptop may involve weeks of Internet research, but the deliberations behind a life-changing breakup could consist of a few bottles of wine. We’re hardly more advanced than the ancient Persians, who, Herodotus says, made big decisions by discussing them twice: once while drunk, once while sober.”


Aesthetically Pleasing

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The tactile materiality of this gorgeous home near Melbourne follows you around: “the rustic vibe, timber tones, use of recycled materials (old wharf posts), concrete heated floors, the blend of indoor-outdoor living spaces, the natural light, the garden design with the birch forest and olive grove, the rosemary hedge.”

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Artist Victoria Rose Richards makes aerial embroidered landscapes that remind me of roaming the fields as a kid, growing up in the German countryside.

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A great collection of notable book covers of 2020.

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FH Giselle is a sans-serif display typeface ideal for expressive, playful headlines.



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