To refuse to participate in the shaping of our future is to give it up. Do not be misled into passivity either by false security (they don’t mean me) or by despair (there’s nothing we can do). Each of us must find our work and do it.

– Audre Lorde


Featured artist: Alice Hoffmann

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery

Welcome to Issue 202!

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This week a thread on Twitter reminded me of a phenomenon called the Shifting Baseline Syndrome (SBS). In simple terms SBS can be defined like so:

“Due to short life-spans and faulty memories, humans have a poor conception of how much of the natural world has been degraded by our actions, because our ‘baseline’ shifts with every generation, and sometimes even in an individual. In essence, what we see as pristine nature would be seen by our ancestors as hopelessly degraded, and what we see as degraded, our children will view as ‘natural’.”

This tweet thread offers some striking examples of SBS in action.

In the US, since the first European settlers arrived, 90% of virgin or ‘old growth’ forest has been destroyed. Today’s forests could be better described as ‘tree farms’ as they do not resemble the richly biodiverse forests that once were.

Another example are whale populations: in just one century we managed to reduce whale numbers by a whopping 99%. The impact of this is hugely complex: apparently the lack of whale poop reduced the fertilising effect on ocean algae levels, permanently crashing the productivity of ocean food webs and even altering global climate.

A more current and more widely understood example is the recent, dramatic decline of the insect population. Thanks to SBS, our children will most likely never know how many bugs ended up splattered on windshields during a road trip taken just a few decades ago.

This thread on Twitter reminded me again of this wonderful essay by Jeremy Lent that covers SBS in detail. He quotes the environmental writer J. B. Mackinnon:

“We live, Mackinnon observes, in a ‘ten percent world’. Those of us who gain sustenance from the sacred beauty of nature sometimes like to think of it as a temple. But, as Mackinnon notes, ‘a greater truth should be foremost in mind: Nature is not a temple, but a ruin. A beautiful ruin, but a ruin all the same.’”

It’s a depressing thing to think about, for sure, but the more people are aware of the Shifting Baseline Syndrome and how it adds momentum to our current mass extinction event, the better our chances of changing direction. This separate thread on Twitter by the same author highlights some of the broader transformations that could prevent us from going down the path of a ‘one percent world’. – Kai


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Apps & Sites

TinyWow →

File processor

TinyWow is a collection of tools to help you convert, edit, compress or merge files of various types. Unlock or split PDF files, convert a video file from AVI to MOV or an image from WEBP to GIF – there is a tiny tool for almost everything.

NowPlaying →

Discover musical facts

This (Apple only) mobile app ‘listens’ to the song that’s playing to reveal a heap of fun facts and useful information in a beautiful, clean interface. This includes editorial notes, where the song was recorded and even who played which instrument. Friends of DD enjoy a 50% discount on the Gold version. Become a Friend to access specials like this.

Outverse →

Forums, reimagined

Slack (and similar tools) can be a wonderful way to engage with people, but I sometimes miss the more structured conversation flow of forums. Outverse comes with the aesthetic approach of Slack but gives members the ability to create longer posts with smart building blocks and classic in-thread replies.

The History of UI →

User interface museum

This lovely little project takes you through the history of user interface design with lots of high quality photos of old computer systems, starting with the Xerox Alto from 1973.


Worthy Five: Harry Keller


Five recommendations by web developer and product manager Harry Keller

A question worth asking:

How is it that we embrace democracy to organise our political systems, yet we rarely question companies operating as autocracies? Isn’t it time we redesigned work to be more equitable?

A concept worth understanding::

Gall’s Law states that ‘all complex systems that work evolved from simpler systems that worked’ and that ‘a complex system designed from scratch never works’. Next time you tackle a complex project: try to defer decisions, learn along the way and trust in iteration.

A quote worth repeating:

I admire Octavia E. Butler’s writing and she once scribbled ‘All good things must begin’ into her notebook. Somehow the phrase stuck with me… it’s so heartfelt and there are (at least) two different ways to read it.

A book worth reading:

In A Simpler Way, Margaret Wheatley explores how organisations can be more playful, compassionate and creative, drawing inspiration from nature’s self-organising patterns. First published in 1996, it’s arguably even more relevant today!

An activity worth doing:

I like to go on forest walks to break the daily cycle of staring at different screens. The peacefully alive environment always deepens conversations (with a friend, partner, dog or just yourself).


Books & Accessories


Internet for the People →

Deprivatising the internet

The success story of the internet (as we tell it today) is mostly the success story of privatisation: a handful of large tech firms, controlling what we see and how we connect, make record profits. Ben Tarnoff imagines what a deprivatised internet by and for the people could look like. “To build a better internet, we need to change how it is owned and organized. Not with an eye towards making markets work better, but towards making them less dominant. Not in order to create a more competitive or more rule-bound version of privatization, but to overturn it.”


Consolations →

The meaning of everyday words

A book for moments of deep thought and contemplation: poet and philosopher David Whyte turns his attention to 52 ordinary words, each its own particular doorway into the underlying currents of human life. “Beginning with ALONE and closing with WORK, each chapter is a meditation on meaning and context, an invitation to shift and broaden our perspectives on the inevitable vicissitudes of life: pain and joy, honesty and anger, confession and vulnerability, the experience of feeling besieged and the desire to run away from it all.”


Overheard on Twitter

Never forget, the electric car is here to save the car industry, not the planet.



Food for Thought

The Housing Crisis is the Everything Crisis →


A reader recommended this video after my mentioning of Nightingale Housing. It’s a pretty astounding rundown of the many social, environmental and economic issues that can be traced back to outdated, inequitable housing policies. Housing really is the mother of (almost) all issues. “In the UK, for every 10% the rent increases, births go down 5%. One study suggests house price rises between 1996 and 2014 prevented the birth of 157,000 people. ... Housing improves education. Children who live in a crowded household are much less likely to graduate from high school. Houses near high-performing schools cost on average 2.4 times as much.”

The Irreplaceable →


Palm oil is everywhere – from cosmetics to chocolate and toothpaste to pizza. This is a really insightful piece – actually a book review – on the history of palm oil and how this particular vegetable oil rose to such dominance. I didn’t know, for example, that the original palm oil plantations started in Africa (involving, of course, long periods of colonial destruction and exploitation) only to be introduced to the South Asian region in the early 20th century by – you guessed it – Europeans. “When we speak of feeding the world, we often think of grains, yet as Robins writes, ‘since 1970, three times as much new cropland has been put under oil-producing plants than under grains.’ Grains have filled the hungry bellies of the world, but palm oil has often been what made the grains palatable.”

Passive audio: Is it time for a new user experience? →


I agree with Rishad Patell here: the sounds our devices make in public are increasingly becoming a nuisance. Where does the responsibility lie? “Remember passive smoking? I’m calling this passive audio. ... What should be your private audio is now my public noise.”


Aesthetically Pleasing

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These stones with spiraling dots, lines and gradients almost look like a computer render, but they are real: hand-painted by Australian-Canadian artist Elspeth McLean. (via)

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London-based 3D artist Joe Mortell creates set designs and surreal scenes, most of which seem to include a place for relaxing or socialising. How about that conversation pit?!

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Oooh, this renovation of a Melbourne apartment is so wonderful: plywood – a modest, cheap material – is used consistently to provide warm, functional joinery throughout, coupled with plain, earthy colours and materials. Don’t miss the before photos further down.

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NaN Holo is “a replicant-inspired fleshy neo-grotesk font in proportional and monospaced styles”. It comes in a huge variety of widths and weights. I love the rounded edges on certain letters that sets it apart from similar typeface in its class.


Notable Numbers


Research shows that up to 56.7% of consumers reject edible, but date-expired food. In order to cut food waste, more and more supermarkets scrap use-by dates entirely and instead encourage consumers to sense-check fresh food items.


Since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, the six largest US banks – Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs – have provided $1.4 trillion in financing to the fossil fuel industry.


In 2011, Germans ate 62.6 kg of meat each year. Today, it’s 54.8 kg – a 12.3 percent decline. And much of that decline took place in the last few years, a time period when grocery sales of plant-based food nearly doubled.



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