“I would love to ignore racism and focus all my attention on climate. But I can’t.”

Great read from Ayana Elizabeth Johnson on The Washington Post. Johnson is, among other things, a marine biologist, and it happens that I started to follow her just a few days ago mostly for that reason.1

She writes:

Toni Morrison said it best, in a 1975 speech: The very serious function of racism … is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.” As a marine biologist and policy nerd, building community around climate solutions is my life’s work. But I’m also a black person in the United States of America. I work on one existential crisis, but these days I can’t concentrate because of another.

There are so many good bits on this piece that I could have quoted every paragraph.


  1. I studied marine biology back in 2004-2005 at the university of Heriot-Watt, Edinburgh, believe it or not.

Beautiful illustrations and a peculiar Instagram description

Earlier today, my Twitter pal1 Daniel Benneworth-Gray tweeted this excellent story on the New York Times Magazine, by Claudia Rankine: I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked. Before I had the chance to read it, he rightfully praised the illustrations made for the article by Nabeejah Al-Ghadban, which immediately got me curious about what other works had been done before by this artist, which brought me to Al-Ghadban’s website. Besides the usual-for-an-illustrator Portfolio and Biography pages, there is also an unusual Collage page, which consists of a collection of illustrations seemingly not featured on the portfolio. This is how she describes it on top of the page:

An experimental feed: often where instant thoughts, ghosts, and ideas materialize, and co-exist through back and forth visits in time and medium; where the hand occasionally becomes illogical, nonsensical.

In other words: Instagram.

I love this. It reads like the pitch Instagram founders gave to VC funds in an awesome, alternate universe.


  1. We need a word for this kind of acquaintances.

UK National Parks photography competition shortlist

A few weeks ago, The Guardian shared a few entrants of the UK National Parks and Campaign for National Parks photography competition, and I believe that all of these pictures are gorgeous. My favourite is the one of Wistman’s Wood in Dartmoor, by the photographer Debra Smitham : I find it has some kind of a Hound of the Baskervilless vibe that I have loved since I was a kid.

The Guardian published those pictures on the 13th of March, which is the day I started working from home, a few days before the official confinement measures here in France. After now almost three months stuck in Paris, I cannot wait to rediscover nature with my own eyes this summer, and appreciate the beauty and peace of it all. The year 2020 as it is can surely use more of it.

When your PR services appear to be like the devices you sell: refurbished

Chris O’Brian, quoting refurbished gadgets company Back Market’s cofounder, Thibaud Hug de Larauze, on Venture Beat, following a new round of venture capital funding:

We want customers to find a very fast and easy solution to either repair or swap the product,” Hug de Larauze said. Ultimately, you want people to say there is no point in buying new because refurbished is just as good. And it’s better on price, it’s better on quality, it’s the same level of warranty, and it’s better in terms of ecological impact.”

Good for Back Market to succeed, good for them to raise money, I believe they deserved it just for the clever company name and the smart marketing campaigns I have seen in Paris last winter, so congratulations are in order.

But a few things are bugging me in this quote.

If the ultimate goal of the company really is that people” buy a refurbished device instead of a new one, they will very soon have a problem: if nobody buys new products, the refurbished market might become very, very difficult. I understand the ambition of the company, I understand the wish to grow big and grow fast, but using the word ultimately” here is just weird when you operate in the second-hand market.

Second, how can a refurbished device be better on quality? Better on price I get it obviously — this is the main selling point of a refurbished device — but quality? If Hug de Larauze had said same quality” or comparable quality” I would have let it go (even if it is also wrong), but better” is an overstatement to say the least, or maybe it is a crude edit made by Venture Beat. Better quality than regular used” devices, I could understand, but better quality than a new device is just ridiculous.

I won’t go deep into the whole better ecological impact” part, because it is obviously much more complicated than what three words can say. If they replace the battery in the devices they sell, meaning ordering new batteries and getting rid of the old ones — arguably the worst part of a computing device environmentally speaking — the extra carbon costs of transport needed to refurbish” the device and ship the batteries, and the new steps of packaging may eventually temper quite a bit this better ecological impact” argument, shamelessly qualified as infinitely greener” on the French website. I think it may be eventually better, but, since they provide no data or study on their website (unless I missed it), I can only assume.

Also interesting that in France, some warranties only last six month instead of the twelve months you get when you buy a new device, so not really the same level of warranty” either.

I hope Back Market is more careful with the quality of the devices they sell than they seem to be with their PR agency, otherwise many buyers will end up looking for better value instead of better price next time they buy a new phone, as they should.

On decision, perfection, and better translations

Daniel Benneworth-Gray, writing about the classic Voltaire quote The perfect is the enemy of the good” and how his own decision process relates to it:

This is how I spend my days, in a state of constant indecision. The debilitating belief that all options but one are incorrect could generously be called perfectionism, but a more accurate term would be option paralysis — the tendency, when given unlimited choices, to make none. An interminable mull over whatever trivial options lay before me, every action bogged down by a fear of choosing unwisely — what to write, what to wear, what to watch, what to eat (my sincere apologies to anyone who has ever sat with me at a sushi conveyor belt), what to anything.

Despite hearing it a lot at work, I believe it is the first time that I encounter this quote attributed to Voltaire in English. I became rather intrigued by the translation as the French sentence would translate as The best is the enemy of the good,” but I personally always understood it as something more in the likes of The better is the enemy of the good.”

In French the two words le mieux” indeed translates as the best.” The translators were absolutely correct obviously, but I cannot help but think that my wrong assumption, where the use of the single word mieux” — the one that would translate as only better” and not best” — is closer to the reality of it all, as better” clearly implies an unfinished process of improvement, whereas best” sounds like the project or product is already finished, which in my mind1 kind of goes against the meaning of the aphorism.2

Browsing on Wikipedia, I found another quote on this topic from Robert Watson-Watt, which I absolutely love:

Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes.


  1. If I understand well, the best” in this quote doesn’t apply to the end result, but to the goal of the process itself, which indeed is a, well, better way of thinking about it. My mind more easily thinks about the end result, hence my preference to the better” — albeit wrong — translation.

  2. I learned this expensive word earlier today, so I might as well use it now: An aphorism is a concise, terse, laconic, or memorable expression of a general truth or principle.”

List of 68 unsolicited tips to improve your life

Last week, writer and Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly turned 68 years old, and listed 68 unsolicited pieces of advice. Usually, I am not a big fan of such life-guidance lists, but I’ve read the whole thing twice already, it is that good. I suspect the word unsolicited” featured in the title of the post helped a lot with my level of appreciation.

My favourite bits:

Being enthusiastic is worth 25 IQ points.

Don’t be the best. Be the only.

Learn how to take a 20-minute power nap without embarrassment.

Over the long term, the future is decided by optimists. To be an optimist you don’t have to ignore all the many problems we create; you just have to imagine improving our capacity to solve problems.

Seriously, go read the whole thing, you won’t regret it.

Beautifully written story about the closure of a famous New York restaurant

Moving, beautiful, sad, wonderful piece of writing by Gabrielle Hamilton — chef and owner of New York restaurant Pruce — on the New York Times magazine, about what the lockdown means for her and her restaurant, but really what it means for everybody in New York and big gentrifying cities, and what it means for everyone working in the food industry. An incredible piece of writing that really deserves all the buzz it is getting. My favourite bit:

Prune is in the East Village because I’ve lived in the East Village for more than 30 years. I moved here because it was where you could get an apartment for $450 a month. In 1999, when I opened Prune, I still woke each morning to roosters crowing from the rooftop of the tenement building down the block, which is now a steel-and-glass tower. A less-than-500-square-foot studio apartment rents for $3,810 a month.

The girl who called about brunch the first day we were closed probably lives there. She is used to having an Uber driver pick her up exactly where she stands at any hour of the day, a gel mani-pedi every two weeks and award-winning Thai food delivered to her door by a guy who braved the sleet, having attached oven mitts to his bicycle handlebars to keep his hands warm. But I know she would be outraged if charged $28 for a Bloody Mary.

And this one:

And God, the brunch, the brunch. The phone hauled out for every single pancake and every single Bloody Mary to be photographed and Instagrammed. That guy who strolls in and won’t remove his sunglasses as he holds up two fingers at my hostess without saying a word: He wants a table for two. The purebred lap dogs now passed off as service animals to calm the anxieties that might arise from eating eggs Benedict on a Sunday afternoon. I want the girl who called the first day of our mandated shut down to call back, in however many months when restaurants are allowed to reopen, so I can tell her with delight and sincerity: No. We are not open for brunch. There is no more brunch.

Read of the week, hands down. I am sure many people already told Hamilton the same thing, but I believe there is enough talent here that we can expect a second successful career in writing if indeed the restaurant remains sadly closed after all this.

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