Stuff that Tom Whitwell has documented since 2014

Wait up, who the hell is Tom Whitwell? For all I know, he’s a consultant with Fluxx, a design and innovation company, and a former journalist whom I accidentally discovered, thanks to his Medium post on the list of things he learned in 2020. And from there I found he’s been documenting all he’s learned every year since 2014!

While the lists are pretty dang fascinating by themselves, the following are the best of the best I’ve learned from his work so far!

Here we go!


If Apple AirPods were a standalone business (founded 2016, $12bn revenue, 125% growth, 30–50% margin), it would probably be the most valuable startup in the world. [Kevin Rooke]

In February, shares in Zoom Technologies rose by 50%. Unfortunately, it was the wrong company. The video conferencing company’s stock is listed as ZM, not ZOOM, and the other Zoom has been out of business for years. Luke McGrath

When Ibn Battuta visited China in 1345, facial recognition was already in use. All visiting foreigners had their portraits discreetly painted and posted on the walls of the bazaar. “If a stranger commits any offence… they send his portrait far and wide” Ibn Battuta

In just eight years, the British National Grid went from being 40% coal-powered to 2% coal-powered. Simon Evans

Developing and launching the iPod in 2001 took just 41 weeks, from the first meeting (no team, no prototype, no design) to iPods shipping to customers. Patrick Collison

The phrase ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ was invented by a police psychiatrist to discredit a female hostage in a 1973 bank heist who criticised the police. Jess Hill

In Warsaw’s Gruba Kaśka water plant there are eight clams with sensors attached to their shells. If the clams close because they don’t like the water’s taste, the city’s supply is automatically shut off. Judita K

A 70% dilution of isopropyl alcohol is better at killing bacteria, fungi, and viruses than ‘pure’ 99% isopropyl alcohol, for several distinct reasons. Mitch Walleser

The first telephone consultation was in 1879, just three years after the telephone was invented: A doctor listened to a child’s cough over the phone, offered a diagnosis (“It’s not the croup”) and treatment (“Settle down and get some sleep”). Sidney H Aronson

Emojis are starting to appear in evidence in court cases, and lawyers are worried: “When emoji symbols are strung together, we don’t have a reliable way of interpreting their meaning.” (In 2017, an Israeli judge had to decide if one emoji-filled message constituted a verbal contract) Eric Goldman

Baijiu is the world’s most popular spirit, with ten bn litres sold each year, almost entirely in China. The second most popular spirit in the world is vodka, with just five bn litres sold. Feyi Fawehinmi

Drunk shopping could be a $45bn /year industry, and only 6% of people regret their drunk purchases. Zachary Crockett

Drug names are changing: X and Z names (Prozac, Seroxat) give way to names ending in O or A (Natesto, Qsymia) which are more appealing to speakers of Romance languages in Europe and South America. Pascaline Faure

The goal of walking 10,000 steps per day may have originated when a Japanese pedometer manufacturer noticed that the 万 symbol (which means 10,000) looks a little like someone walking. The actual health merits of that number ‘have never been validated by research.’ Amanda Mull

In 2017 Google and Facebook lost $100 million between them to one scammer who sent them fake invoices. Jeff John Roberts

Spotify pays by the song. Two three minute songs are twice as profitable as one six-minute song. So songs are getting shorter. Dan Kopf

Using machine learning, researchers can now predict how likely an individual is to be involved in a car accident by looking at the image of their home address on Google Street View. Kinga Kita-Wojciechowska

Disco, a Japanese high tech manufacturing company, has introduced an internal billing and payment system, where every cost is charged back to workers. Renting a conference room costs $100. “People cut back on useless meetings,” says one staffer. Yuji Nakamura & Yuki Furukawa

Six reluctant Chinese hitmen who hired each other to carry out a murder went to jail when their outsourcing scheme collapsed. Eric Cheung

Asking ‘What questions do you have for me?’ can be dramatically more effective than ‘Any questions?’ at the end of a talk. (Many more useful tips in this thread. Jacqueline Antonovich

35% of Rwanda’s national blood supply outside the capital city is now delivered by drone. Techmoran

In Uganda, half the population is under the age of 15. Tom Jackson

Times Newer Roman looks almost exactly like Times New Roman, but each character is 5–10 wider. That means a 15 page, 12pt document contains just over 5,800 words. The same page count in Times New Roman would require over 6,600 words. Result! Tina Roth Eisenberg

On Netflix, the artwork is personalised based on your viewing history. An Uma Thurman fan will see the classic Pulp Fiction poster showing Uma, but a John Travolta fan will be shown a different image. Ashok Chandrashekar & co (This also had more sinister consequences).

A Chinese podcast called “How to Make Your Voice More Attractive” has 218,000 paying subscribers. Overall, the Chinese self-help subscription podcasts market was worth $7.3 billion in 2017, compared with just $314 million for all advertising-funded podcasts in the US. Jennifer Pak

Alright, that’s all I can cheat. The lists for 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014 are just as fascinating. You must check them out!

As a side note, I’ve always wondered what it takes to become a curator or curators. You know, the likes of Tina Roth Eisenberg, Maria Popova, and Jason Kottke (now Tom Whitwell in this list as well, although he’s not as prolific as the others) and the answer (after studying them for close to three years) is pretty straightforward — observation, exploration, and documentation. In that order.

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