In matters of style swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.

– Thomas Jefferson


Featured artist: Andreu Zaragoza

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery

Welcome to Issue 230!

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I had a great time hosting my mum for what may have been her last visit to Australia. We talked a lot about cultural differences between Germany and Australia – the good and the bad on both sides. And one of the few negatives she pointed out on her first day here, was the size of cars on the road. She kept pointing in astonishment at giant four-wheel drives and jacked-up SUVs, struggling to understand why people would need such vehicles.

Without an interest in urbanism, transport and the environment, the average Australian may not even have noticed that SUVs now make up more than 50% of new vehicles. (It’s almost 80% in the US.) The normalisation of oversized cars happened remarkably quickly. Just a decade ago the top-selling car in Australia was the Toyota Corolla, a compact hatchback; today it’s the Toyota HiLux, a two-ton pickup truck. (Compare the two here.) This year, eight out of the ten best-selling cars in Australia fall into the SUV or bigger categories.

Perfectly timed, one of my favourite YouTube channels, Not Just Bikes, published a fantastic special on SUVs that highlights how terrible these cars are on pretty much every measure. Compared to ‘standard-sized’ vehicles, SUVs are more polluting, more resource and space hungry, more damaging to roads, much more dangerous to pedestrians (especially children), cyclists and other drivers, less practical, and more expensive to purchase and run.

The video does a good job explaining where the automobile industry’s love for light trucks started (mostly fuel efficiency and safety regulation loopholes to make American trucks more competitive) and candidly debunks every reason to purchase an SUV. Some highlights:

“We’re constantly being told that doing anything about the astronomical growth and the average size of motor vehicles would infringe on the freedoms of people to do whatever they want. But your freedom to swing your arm ends where my face begins, and SUVs are a giant punch in the face to everyone who doesn’t drive one. …

Over a ten-year period, over 500 American children were killed by being run over by SUVs – usually by their own parents, in their own driveways. This is insane! This is legitimately insane in any civilized society. This information alone would be enough to regulate the hood design of SUVs and light trucks, but instead the industry solution for this is proximity sensors and front-facing cameras, because car companies are happy for any regulations that means they can sell you more stuff. …

In the early days, most SUV buyers were arseholes. I’m not being flippant in suggesting that all SUV drivers were arsehole, but arseholes were literally the primary target market. When automakers wanted to make SUVs mainstream, auto industry research determined that the average light truck purchaser was obsessed with status, less likely to volunteer or feel a strong connection to their communities, less giving, less oriented toward others, more afraid of crime, more likely to text and drive, [and] more likely to take risks while driving. …

I really struggle to understand how a [European] DHL delivery driver can do his job with a [Renault] Kangoo van, but a middle-aged suburbanite thinks they need a Chevy Silverado [truck] to buy groceries. … One of these vehicles is designed to efficiently carry lots of useful stuff, while the other is designed to carry fragile egos.”

The US, Canada and to some extent Australia have already lost the plot when it comes to regulating these types of vehicles. Europe is heading in the same direction, but there is still time for lawmakers there to come to their senses by, for instance, heavily taxing oversized cars and regulating bumper height.

As with so many other issues, our policy response should be guided by evidence and common sense. Instead, it gets politicised and ends up being yet another battle in the culture wars. – Kai


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Apps & Sites

Bento →

Personal profile page

Bento gives you a customisable profile page with links to all your social media accounts and other content on the internet. A set of rectangular containers can be moved and resized to show small preview images of the various accounts you link up.

Dato →

Menu bar calendar & world clock

The macOS app Dato combines a calendar and world clock in your menu bar. The customisable calendar will show and notify you of upcoming video calls. You can use the slider to find suitable times for future events in different time zones.

Lungy →

Breathing exercise app

Lungy (for iOS) responds with beautiful animations to your breath in order to guide you through breathing exercises, and to make them more engaging and fun.

Wikenigma →

Encyclopedia of the unknown

A wiki with close to a thousand topics that highlight the gaps in our knowledge: “Research projects constantly chip away at the vast unknown. But, for various reasons, not everyone likes to pro-actively publicize details of what we still don’t know. Wikenigma, however, does.” I read through a bunch of random results and learned that Paracetamol “works by mechanisms which have not yet been agreed upon by the medical establishment”. I don’t know exactly who curates the wiki, so enjoy with a grain of salt.


Favourite Books: Marshall Woodward


Six book recommendations by poet and researcher Marshall Woodward

1 / The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

A Booker finalist, told from the perspective of a recently murdered Sri Lankan photojournalist. An education, a haunting, a hoot-and-a-holler, I immediately bought Shehan Karunatilaka’s previous book Chinamen when I finished the Seven Moons. It is literary and mystical and will stick with me to my own grave.

2 / Chalk: The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly by Joshua Rivkin

Chalk tells the haunting story of artist Cy Twombly’s life. Rivkin works around Twombly’s prickly estate-manager Nicola’s management of Cy’s reputation and archive to craft the first comprehensive biography of the Rilke-obsessed painter. Twombly was famously never photographed working, and has become an elusive muse of my poetry. The Twombly Gallery down the street in Houston has become a weekly pilgrimage of scribbles, bouquets of colour, and intense daydreams. I’d love to go there with anyone visiting.

3 / The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr

A best-seller, bronck-and-buck memoir from the late 90’s, this is the story of poet Mary Karr’s adolescence in East Texas. Her dad worked in a refinery, her mom hit the sauce, and she became one of America’s most beloved writers. Tragicomic page-turner. Read at the beach with a spritzer.

4 / Holy Digital Grail by Michelle R. Warren

A fantastic study of material, literature and the quest for a perfect way to capture data online, a ‘holy digital grail’ as sturdy and tidy as medieval manuscripts. Told through the obsessive history of a 12th century Arthurian romance, the history and future of literary production comes through brilliantly. It is an academic book that kept me up all night.

5 / Just Meat/Not God by J.D. Howse

The sweetest, melancholic book of lyric poetry. A study of Irish-British painter Francis Bacon’s haunting portraits that J.D. Howswer tells through clear and terrifying sonnets. The London Royal Academy had a big retrospective on Bacon that I believe Howswer studied. Poetry can be hard, Howswer makes it easy.

6 / Walking and Wayfinding in the Westfjords of Iceland by Henry Fletcher & Jay Simpson

This is one of the most beautifully printed books – and it comes with twin companion readers, rounding out a trio of books that are ostensibly about how to hike in a remote region of Iceland, but really is a careful, charming, obsessive product of friendship and outdoorsmanship. I tracked this project from 2019 to printing; Henry & Jay did an amazing job documenting this arduous process. For fans of process & printing!

(Did you know? Friends of DD can respond to and engage with guest contributors like Marshall Woodward in one click.)


Books & Accessories


Repair Revolution →

Fixing our throwaway culture

I love that there are more and more volunteer-run events around the world, offering free technical expertise to help people repair their broken devices and educate them about the ‘right to repair’ movement. It’s a great example of citizen-led, bottom-up activism. Repair Revolution chronicles the rise of Repair Cafes, Fixit Clinics, and other volunteer-run organizations devoted to helping consumers repair their beloved but broken items for free. The book explores the philosophy and wisdom of repairing, as well as the Right to Repair movement. It provides inspiration and instructions for starting, staffing, and sustaining your own repair events.”


Joined-Up Thinking →

The power of collective intelligence

The challenges faced by the inhabitants of this planet to create a livable future requires collective thinking and collaborative action like never before. In her newest book, British neuroscientist Hannah Critchlow explores how we can share our wisdom and knowledge most effectively across race, class, gender and borders. “Hannah Critchlow shows all the tricks to help us work best collectively – how to cope with wildly differing opinions, balance our biases, prevent a corrupting force, and exercise our intuitive ability for the most effective outcomes.”


Overheard on Mastodon

It’s hilarious, and awesome, that we invented telephones, used them for a hundred years, and then collectively decided they were awkward and stressful and we just wanted to send very fast letters instead.

@[email protected]


Food for Thought

These Stupid Trucks are Literally Killing Us →


Under Not Just Bikes, Canadian Jason Slaughter publishes some of the best explainer videos about car dependency and good/bad urban design on the internet. In one of his latest videos, Slaughter takes on SUVs, examining their history and the lethal impact of these oversized cars (that keep getting bigger). “North Americans have been conditioned to believe that you need a large, heavy vehicle in order to be safe on the roads. We should be moving to lighter electric vehicles that require smaller batteries, with better range, lower cost and fewer resources needed to make them. But we’re going in exactly the opposite direction, where even the smallest Tesla has a curb weight of over 1600 kg, significantly more than a similarly sized Toyota Yaris sedan.”

Paying Ourselves To Decarbonize →


The well-known climate/science-fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson with a thought-provoking piece about why we should pay petro-states to leave fossil fuel reserves in the ground – and where we could find the hundreds of trillions of dollars required to do so. “We desperately need to put a truer price on carbon, rather than continuing with the destructively subsidized and false price we have now. Governments would then have an income as well as a pay-out when it came to carbon. This might help create a sense of stability in money despite the creation of large new amounts of it. Burn carbon, pay taxes; sequester carbon, get paid.”

How the Great Recession paved the way for the influencer industry →


A short but insightful interview with Emily Hund, who wrote a whole book on the phenomenon that is the influencer industry. It’s fascinating to hear her perspective on what seems like a shortlived trend on the outside, but – according to her – signals a major shift in how we see ourselves and each other: “‘While individual participants looked for a route to autonomy, stability, and professional fulfillment that seemed impossible elsewhere, they ended up creating a value system that advanced the erosion of boundaries between individuals’ inner lives and commercialism, asking us to view ourselves as products perpetually ready for market, our relationships as monetizable, and our daily activities as potential shopping experiences’, Hund writes. ‘Influencers are neither “a flash in the pan” nor “a bubble about to burst”, but indicators of a paradigm shift in the way we think about each other and ourselves.’”


Aesthetically Pleasing

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Gawthorne’s Hut is a beautifully designed country getaway on a working farm located just outside Mudgee, NSW, Australia. “The 40 square metre property showcases the potential of small off-grid dwellings, supported by solar power, battery storage, and rainwater tanks.”

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I love monothematic photo series, like this one about Scarecrows by Leeds-based photographer Peter Mitchell.

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The Office of Ordinary Things is a climate, sustainability, and social good-focused design studio based in San Francisco who created a limited showcase folder for family-owned and operated print shop D&K, highlighting more sustainable materials and methods for print production. “While the promo showcases classic eco materials like 100% PCW paper and vegetable-based inks, we also chose to spotlight nascent materials like paper made from straw pulp and ink made with algae-based pigments.” Friends of DD based in the US can order a copy. Become a Friend to access specials like this.

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Ottessa is a modern, tight, yet humanistic sans-serif family with a wonderfully sharp italic version. “With steeply angled polysemic Italics that take on a dynamic, humanistic approach with fast upstrokes and seemingly rotated rounds, and a wide range of weights, spectacular visuals will become second nature to you.”


Notable Numbers


This year, India is set to overtake China’s population of 1.4 billion to become the world’s most populous country. With 27.3% of its population aged between 15 and 29 years, India is also among the youngest countries in the world.


Last year, the 330 million SUVs on the world’s roads produced emissions equivalent to the combined national emissions of the UK and Germany. If SUVs were a country, they would rank as the sixth most polluting in the world.


Coal in the US is now being economically outmatched by renewables to such an extent that it’s more expensive for 99% of the country’s coal-fired power plants to keep running than it is to build an entirely new solar or wind energy operation nearby.



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