Hello there 🙂

Welcome to issue fifty four of Manufacturing Serendipity, a loosely connected, somewhat rambling collection of the unexpected things I’ve recently encountered.

This newsletter is free to receive, but if you’d like to support me in this odd little endeavour you can buy me a coffee 🙂

Speaking of coffee, grab yourself a suitable beverage my loves, let’s do this thing…

Part I: Things I’ve Encountered Online…

The geek in me was absolutely delighted to come across this dry-sounding (but actually fascinating) article from Nature this week: How many yottabytes in a quettabyte? Extreme numbers get new names

Here’s how the article kicks things off:

“By the 2030s, the world will generate around a yottabyte of data per year — that’s 10^24* bytes, or the amount that would fit on DVDs stacked all the way to Mars.”

*This means 10 to the power of 24 (i.e. 1 with 24 zeros following it, which is referred to either as a septillion or quadrillion). It seems Substack doesn’t support the formatting of 10 to the power of 24 as you’d normally see it (normal-sized 10, teeny, tiny floating 24), apologies for the weirdness.

The article continues:

“Now, the booming growth of the data sphere has prompted the governors of the metric system to agree on new prefixes beyond that magnitude, to describe the outrageously big and small.”

My goodness what a sentence!

Dear reader, did you know that there were governors of the metric system? (I did not).

I also enjoy the notion of numbers being OUTRAGEOUSLY big or small — i.e. that a number itself (as opposed to what it denotes) could be considered “bad”, “excessive”, or “shocking”. Like, everyone’s totally down with 10^24; but 10^27 — that’s TOO MANY ZEROES! THIS WILL NOT STAND! I AM NOW OFFICIALLY OUTRAGED!!!

Anywho, let’s move on:

“Representatives from governments worldwide, meeting at the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) outside Paris on 18 November, voted to introduce four new prefixes to the International System of Units (SI) with immediate effect. The prefixes ronna and quetta represent 10^27 and 10^30, and ronto and quecto signify 10^−27 and 10^−30. Earth weighs around one ronnagram, and an electron’s mass is about one quectogram.

This is the first update to the prefix system since 1991, when the organization added zetta (10^21), zepto (10^−21), yotta (10^24) and yocto (10^−24). In that case, metrologists were adapting to fit the needs of chemists, who wanted a way to express SI units on the scale of Avogadro’s number — the 6 × 1023 units in a mole, a measure of the quantity of substances. The more familiar prefixes peta and exa were added in 1975”

Yes my loves, they had a meeting to vote on how these new units of measurement should be named! I feel like that meeting could have been an email, but I’m guessing they talked about some other stuff too.

For me, the really interesting bit is why this stuff needed to be formally named. Meet Richard Brown, a metrologist at the UK National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, who has been working on plans to introduce the latest prefixes for the past five years(?!), and presented the proposal to the CGPM on 17 November:

“With the annual volume of data generated globally having already hit zettabytes, informal suggestions for 10^27 — including ‘hella’ and ‘bronto’ — were starting to take hold, he says. Google’s unit converter, for example, already tells users that 1,000 yottabytes is 1 hellabyte, and at least one UK government website quotes brontobyte as the correct term.”

Ha! Is it a hellabyte cos it’s hella big? Bronto means thunder, so thunderously big? Language is always evolving and we make up new words all the time, so what’s your problem, Rich?

It seems that actually there are good reasons not to adopt the unofficial terms:

“… the problem with hella and bronto is that their symbols (h and b) are already used in the metric system for other units or prefixes: h, for example, stands for hecto (the rarely used 102) and H is the henry, the unit of inductance. This is the main reason they can’t stand as formal terms,” he says. “It’s not especially that I wanted to be a killjoy, although that comes into it as well,” he adds, smiling.

A further problem with bronto is alluded to later in the article: powers that multiply figures, such yotta (10^24) end in ‘a’; whereas prefixes describing the smaller end of the scale, end in ‘o’, for example, yocto (10^−24). On this basis bronto breaks the existing naming convention.

So how did the new prefixes ronna 10^27, quetta 10^30, ronto 10^−27, and quecto 10^−30, come about?

“Coming up with the new prefixes was not straightforward. Brown looked for words that began with the only letters not already in use as symbols for units or prefixes, or otherwise excluded — r and R, and q and Q.”

Ok, so Rs and Qs are the only letters available.

“Another was that the words should roughly correspond with the sounds of Greek or Latin numbers (ronna and quetta sound a bit like the Greek words for nine and ten, ennea and deka).”

Do these really sound alike? Given the R and Q thing, poor old Rich hasn’t got a ton of room to manoeuvre, huh? Particularly when you consider this:

“Brown was forced to ditch an earlier suggestion of ‘quecca’ after discovering its proximity to a Portuguese swear word.”

Ha! Swears.

But with no further available letters of the alphabet left, how will we name future OUTRAGEOUS numbers, Rich?

“Brown says that there are now no letters of the alphabet available to represent new prefixes, so what will happen once some area of science pushes magnitudes to the 10^33 level remains an open question. Scientists can always denote numbers in powers of ten, but people tend to want a word, says Brown. He would advocate compound prefixes that use two symbols, such as kiloquetta (kQ), rather than branching out into different alphabets. “But I think probably we’re a long way away from having to worry about this,” he adds.”

It’s been a long on old road for Rich, (five years to get agreement on how some numbers should be named!), and he seems understandably super-happy:

“Brown has had to jump through so many hoops to get his proposal approved at the CPGM that he hasn’t yet let himself imagine the terms actually in use, he says. “It will be absolutely fantastic.”

It’s a Christmas miracle, friends!

Moar serendipitous finds:

Eight studies reveal a (possibly universal) bias in human imagination

When people are asked to imagine how things could be different, they almost always imagine how things could be better.

The findings appear to be incredibly robust. It doesn’t depend on the wording of the question, what was asked about, the kind of people asked, or the language the question was asked in.

Check out the full article which includes the studies documenting this effect, plus notes why this happens and what it means.

Doctors know almost nothing about the clitoris

“Some urologists compare the vulva to “a small town in the Midwest,” said Dr. Irwin Goldstein, a urologist and pioneer in the field of sexual medicine. Doctors tend to pass through it, barely looking up, on their way to their destination, the cervix and uterus. That’s where the real medical action happens: ultrasounds, Pap smears, IUD insertion, childbirth.

If the vulva as a whole is an underappreciated city, the clitoris is a local roadside bar: little known, seldom considered, probably best avoided. “It’s completely ignored by pretty much everyone,” said Dr. Rachel Rubin, a urologist and sexual health specialist outside Washington, D.C. “There is no medical community that has taken ownership in the research, in the management, in the diagnosis of vulva-related conditions.”

Why is this?

“To Dr. Rubin, the reason is simple: The clitoris is intimately bound up in female pleasure and orgasm. And until very recently, those themes have not been high on medicine’s priority list, nor considered appropriate areas of medical pursuit.

Even in fields like urology, where male sexual pleasure and orgasm are considered integral, women’s sexual health “is seen as hysteria, Pandora’s box, all psychosocial, not real medicine,” said Dr. Rubin, who is also the education chair of the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health. “Sexual health and quality of life is not something we focus on for women.” (In contrast, Viagra is one of the most lucrative pharmaceutical drugs in recent decades, bringing in tens of billions of dollars to Pfizer since being introduced in 1998.)”

‘Gaslighting’ is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2022

Depressingly appropriate, huh? Gaslighting is defined as: “The act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.” The word came into being thanks to Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play, “Gas Light”:

“It birthed two film adaptations in the 1940s. One, George Cukor’s “Gaslight” in 1944, starred Ingrid Bergman as Paula Alquist and Charles Boyer as Gregory Anton. The two marry after a whirlwind romance and Gregory turns out to be a champion gaslighter. Among other instances, he insists her complaints over the constant dimming of their London townhouse’s gaslights is a figment of her troubled mind.”

I also thought the rest of the top 10 (and the potential reasons why they made it) were interesting — check out the power of wordle, people!

2) “Oligarch,” driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

3) “Omicron,” the persistent COVID-19 variant and the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.

4) “Codify,” as in turning abortion rights into federal law.

5) “Queen consort,” what King Charles’ wife, Camilla is newly known as.

6) “Raid,” as in the search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.

7) “Sentient,” with lookups brought on by Google canning the engineer who claimed an unreleased AI system had become sentient.

8) “Cancel culture,” enough said.

9) “LGBTQIA,” for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual, aromantic or agender.

10) “Loamy,” which many Wordle users tried back in August, though the right word that day was “clown.”

Alex Cassidy on coming up with Creative Ideas

My friend Alex put together this deck for a webinar (you can watch the recording here). Whilst this is a digital PR centric talk, I think it’s very applicable to any sort of creative endeavour; and around 12 minutes in, he gives a shout out to this article by Julian Shapiro: Creativity faucet: Being more creative which I really liked.

You Chose Wrong

A glorious tumblr of Choose Your Own Adventure endings.

You enter the communication tube and free-fall back to your room. On your way, you hear it. At first it is like a faint scratching. Then it grows louder and vastly louder. Now the noise sounds like mountains being torn apart or the thunder of tidal waves. The sounds increases exponentially. It doubles, doubles, doubles again, until -- WHAM! Your universe tears apart. One last exploding, roaring, smacking blast of light is all there is. The Evil Power Master has done it again. The End.
(from Choose Your Own Adventure #25: Prisoner of the Ant People, 1983) via https://youchosewrong.tumblr.com

Diana Yevtukh’s Embroidery

“Ukrainian artist Diana Yevtukh draws inspiration from her surroundings by carefully situating cornucopian floral arrangements made of thread in the hollows of trees. Based in Lviv, her work has assumed more urgency since the invasion of her home country by Russian forces earlier this year, and pieces like “Why did they do that to us” draw on her background in photography and design to spread the crucial message that Ukraine remains under threat.”

You can find more of Yevtukh’s work on Instagram.

“Why did they do this to us” (2022). © Diane Yevtukh.

You might also like:

Part II: Books I’m Reading Right Now

Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes is a triumphant reframing of the myth of Perseus and Medusa (NB Haynes highlights that this is not an innovation but an act of restitution: women were prominent in the original tales but have been relegated to the sidelines by centuries of patriarchal retelling).

This is the story of Medusa that you probably haven’t heard — Haynes recalls watching Clash of the Titans as a child, and says: “She wasn’t a character, she was just a monster… It would be years before I came across any other version of Medusa’s story, anything that told me how she became a monster, or why.” I’d strongly recommend getting your mitts on a copy, you’ll never see Perseus in the same light again.

Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo, is set in the animal kingdom of Jidada. After a 40-year period of heavily corrupt rule, the “Old Horse” is ousted in a coup. Initially there is hope for change under a new ruling horse, “Tuvius Delight Shasha”; but unhappily, this hope quickly turns to despair. Bulawayo holds up a mirror to contemporary Zimbabwe, and the world at large, and her writing sizzles. I loved it.

Part III: Things I’ve Been Watching

Here’s some telly I’ve watched recently and would recommend:

  • FIFA Uncovered (Netflix)Eye-opening, (even for someone like me, who has always considered FIFA to be hopelessly corrupt), this one’s well worth your time.
  • Wednesday (Netflix). The Addams Family spin-off I didn’t realise I needed in my life.
  • The English (BBC iPlayer). Despite an overly convoluted plot, and a script which is, in places, achingly bad (it opens with the line: “It was in the stars … And we believed in the stars, you and I”); I still kinda liked this blood-soaked, revisionist Western.
  • Eat the Rich: The GameStop Saga (Netflix). The David versus Goliath battle that roiled Wall Street — to the moon!

Part IV: What I’ve been up to…

So. Many. Lovely. Things.

I went to Disneyland with Steve, celebrated Diana’s birthday, caught up in-person with Areej, saw the Ukulele Band of Great Britain, took my Mum to see Hamilton, and had a lovely boozy lunch with Matt.

What’s next?

Christmas shopping, spending time with family and friends, reading lovely books, eating too much, sleeping a lot.

If you enjoyed this newsletter, you can receive direct to your inbox. Sign up here.

Leave a Reply