People are like music, some speak the truth and others are just noise.

– Bill Murray


Featured artist: Patrick Paulin

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery

Welcome to Issue 185!

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Last week’s non-intro actually touched on a point that’s been on my mind for a while: the incentives of the so-called ‘creator economy’ mean that more and more people feel pressured to churn out content regardless of substance or merit, but because it’s [insert day of the week] and so content has got to be produced.

Obviously, I don’t exclude myself entirely from this criticism. As I previously mentioned, working in publishing means your head is perpetually stuck in ‘next issue mode’. In her writing about the creator economy, Nadia Asparouhova makes a fitting comparison:

“There’s a saying in academia, which is a sort of centuries-old creator economy in itself: ‘Publish or perish.’ As an academic, if you’re not publishing new papers, you’re running on borrowed social capital. The endless pressure to publish in order to maintain social capital creates perverse incentives…”

There are clear benefits in sticking to a regular schedule. Readers appreciate consistency; sponsors prefer fixed time slots; even I work better with a framework of solid routines.

But the hype around the creator economy, of course, focuses only on the potential financial rewards. When a hobby turns into a business, fuzzier, more personal success metrics often give way to cold, hard numbers. Haven’t we all witnessed a once beloved creative project change tone and tactics and go into full growth hacker mode? Again Asparouhova:

“I wonder whether the creator economy, as it matures, will resemble less of its original promise (a way for people to do the things they love), in favor of a ‘creator industrial complex’. Part of the problem is that creativity comes in fits and starts, and can’t always be tamed into a predictable routine. If you’re obligated to create something every day, rather than when it feels right, you’ll start putting things out there that aren’t very interesting in order to fill the space. … Preserving the ‘creator’ identity matters more than what is accomplished. …

“When I imagine a cultural renaissance that inspires me, I think about working together to address unsolved questions, tugging on threads in conversations that need unraveling, creating enduring artifacts for generations to pore over and iterate upon. The ‘publish or perish’ model that nudges people to rack up more followers is not the pinnacle of creative freedom; it’s indentured spiritual servitude.”

Honouring the time and attention of an audience and using one’s ‘social capital’ responsibly sometimes means to create less – to be comfortable and confident in knowing when to say little or nothing at all. – Kai


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Apps & Sites

Eesel →

Tab filter

Eesel is a browser extension that automatically groups and filters your browser history. Once installed, it becomes your ‘new tab’ default view where you can quickly navigate through previously opened documents and pages, grouped by app.

AllTrails →

Trail hiking app

If you’re a hiker you will probably already know AllTrails which is, in my view, the best app for trail hiking/running/biking out there. The curated catalogue makes finding trails for any skill level anywhere in the world really easy. I was happily paying for their pro plan (which lets you save detailed trail maps for offline use) when I was hiking in New Zealand. Note: this is a referral link – no kickbacks but they grow a tree for each signup.

Probable Futures →

Mapping out climate change

This site is worth exploring in more detail: “Probable Futures aims to increase our chances that the future is good. We offer tools to visualize climate change along with stories and insights to help people understand what those changes mean.” Don’t miss the many great interactive maps scattered across the site to see how changes in heat, water and (soon) drought will affect your corner of the world.

Earth Clock →

Time in satellite images

Give the site a few seconds to load, then sit back and enjoy the satisfying zoom animations that display your current time through satellite imagery. There is a screensaver for macOS too!


Worthy Five: Thom Wong


Five recommendations by writer and content designer Thom Wong

A video worth watching:

This almost ten-year-old video portrait of American conceptual artist John Baldessari, produced for LACMA by Supermarché, is evergreen storytelling. It has it all: narration by Tom Waits, the William Tell Overture and a beautiful dog.

A book worth reading:

In An Attempt At Exhausting A Place In GTA Online, Michael Crowe does for the video game what Georges Perec did for a Paris street corner. Admittedly, it’s a little harder to chronicle a location when people keep trying to kill you.

An activity worth doing:

Take the same walk every day with a camera. You’ll know why after about five walks.

A newsletter worth subscribing to:

Blackbird Spyplane remains a constant source of joy in my life, with a distinct vernacular that will mess up the way you speak. Erin and Jonah cover killer jawns (aka clothing and homeware) and GORP (aka outdoor gear as fashion), interspersed with interviews with Andre 3000, Jerry Seinfeld and Tyler the Creator.

A podcast worth listening to:

Songonauts is an interdimensional musical with bonkers production value, which, unlike most podcasts, you can binge in a day. Join Doc, Penny and Jojo as they battle a mysterious force trying to rob the universe of music.


Books & Accessories


Wild Souls →

How humans and wild animals relate

A book investigating the complicated real and ethical relationship between the human world and the remaining wild animals on our planet. Are any animals truly wild on a planet that humans have so thoroughly changed? “Transporting readers into the field with scientists tackling these profound challenges, Emma Marris tells the affecting and inspiring stories of animals around the globe – from Peruvian monkeys to Australian bilbies, rare Hawai'ian birds to majestic Oregon wolves. And she offers a companionable tour of the philosophical ideas that may steer our search for sustainability and justice in the non-human world.”


Radically Condensed Instructions for Being Just as You Are →

Nonduality’s impact on life

Nonduality is a fuzzy concept that describes a kind of transcendence into a state of being one with everything. I was made aware of it through this book (booklet?) recommendation that sees nonduality as a state of ‘being here now’ – a practice of present-moment awareness. “‘Being in the present moment’ may sound like redundant nonsense from a purely philosophical point-of-view. However, when we thoroughly understand that present-moment awareness is all there is, we are able to ‘be here now’ with renewed appreciation and clarity. We can make an uncompromising commitment to the present moment without the distractions of distorted thinking, artificial comparisons and impossible ideals.”


Overheard on Twitter

Person 1: The glass is 1/2 full
Person 2: The glass is 1/2 empty
Excel: The glass is the 1st of February



Food for Thought

Crony Beliefs →


A great interrogation into our belief system. Kevin Simler argues that we all rely on ‘crony beliefs’, beliefs that we hold mostly for their social incentives and rewards, to construct our reality and navigate our lives – no matter how rational or pragmatic we think we are. “If we want to be right in the long run, we have to accept that we’ll often be wrong in the short run, and be willing to do the needful thing, i.e., discard questionable beliefs. This may sound vaguely heroic or psychologically difficult, somehow, but it’s not. A meritocracy experiences no anguish in letting go of a misbelief and adopting a better one, even its opposite. ... Crony beliefs, on the other hand, get an entirely different treatment. Since we mostly don’t care whether they’re making accurate predictions, we have little need to seek out criticism for them.”

A guerilla gardener in South Central LA →


Oh, I love this so much: Los Angeles local Ron Finley plants vegetable gardens in abandoned lots, traffic medians, and along the curbs. “Why? For fun, for defiance, for beauty and to offer some alternative to fast food in a community where ‘the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys’.”

Diversity Plus: Diverse Story Forms and Themes, Not Just Diverse Faces →


This was a surprisingly insightful and informative read about the need for not just diverse characters (‘surface diversity’) but for diverse forms of storytelling that draw from the world’s many different traditions and cultural norms. The piece gives several great examples of movies that provide plenty of surface diversity but remain stubbornly Western in their approach to structuring stories. “The Asian four-act structure is not necessarily based on conflict, tension, and resolution. It is more interested in exploring the unseen relationships among the story’s elements than in pitting them against each other. It is also not symmetrical. The first two acts are characterized by a gradual buildup. A radical twist appears in the third act that introduces a new element. The fourth act ‘harmonizes’ all the elements that came before. By ‘harmonize’, I don’t necessarily mean a peaceful resolution. I mean that the fourth act contains a revelation about the relationships among the elements that often feels like a new element in itself.”


Aesthetically Pleasing

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Maine-based artist Zoe Keller creates meticulously detailed graphite and digital drawings that explore biodiversity and wild places. These drawings of her series Ocean Biodiversity were made with Procreate on an iPad.

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In the series Architecture of Density photographer Michael Wolf shows the startling scale of vertical living in Hong Kong and other (I assume) Asian cities. It almost looks like someone clone-stamped floors in Photoshop. Some of Wolf’s work is available in book form.

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I’ve recently been watching some older episodes of Grand Designs (House of the Year) and the Modern Mews project in London stood out: a renovation of a four-storey, slightly dilapidated, dark mews house that’s been transformed into a beautiful Japanese-inspired home. Each floor is connected through a unique central staircase design that lets loads of light in. “Light penetrates the new glazed roof above and through the staircase’s open treads and glazed landings, allowing daylight into the previously dark lower reaches of the house. The transparency also allows a visual connection between floors.” You can watch the episode online here (skip to the 12 minute mark).

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If you’re looking not just for a type face but a complete type system for your next publishing project, Fontwerk’s Nice has you covered: “a complex type system with an enormous range of typographic possibilities. The refreshing serif superfamily shines with four perfectly harmonised optical sizes.”


Notable Numbers


The share of Scotland that is forested has increased from just under 6 per cent a century ago, to around 18 per cent today. The country now has nearly as much forest as it did 1,000 years ago, according to data from researchers at Our World in Data.


An anonymous Frenchman who won 200 million euros in the Euromillions lottery in 2020 has chosen to use his winnings to create a foundation dedicated to the conservation of forests and revitalisation of biodiversity.


The total weight of the electric resurrection of the Hummer comes in at a ridiculous 4.5 tons. The enormous battery that powers the vehicle weighs over 1,300 kg – the equivalent of the average European car.



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