“Five for Your Eyes” is a new series of posts where I share five features that I found to be interesting or worth reading. I read a lot of books, but I also love reading long-form pieces in publications like the New York Times, the Atlantic, and the New Yorker, looking into slices of the world I was previously unaware of, or have held interests in. I hope some of these articles will interest you as well!
☆ A Spectre is Haunting Unicode (Dampfkraft)
In 1978 Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry established the encoding that would later be known as JIS X 0208, which still serves as an important reference for all Japanese encodings. However, after the JIS standard was released people noticed something strange – several of the added characters had no obvious sources, and nobody could tell what they meant or how they should be pronounced. Nobody was sure where they came from. These are what came to be known as the ghost characters (幽霊文字).
For a long time the ghost characters remained an unexplained and mostly forgotten curiosity, but in 1997 an investigation was launched to discover where they had come from. While all characters in the JIS standard were supposed to have a record of their sources, even when it existed it wasn’t very specific, typically just listing the document it was sourced from.
You’d think that listing the source would make tracking down the origins of the characters easy, but it’s important to clarify what counts as a “source” – one of the more common sources for the ghost characters was the “Overview of National Administrative Districts” (国土行政区画総覧), a comprehensive list of place names in Japan. You might, as I initially did, imagine this to be a kind of atlas, an oversize book with at most a few hundred pages. It turns out the latest edition is a seven volume set with each volume having roughly nine hundred pages. Imagine tracking down a single character without a page reference.
☆ The Cheapest Generation (The Atlantic)
But what if these assumptions are simply wrong? What if Millennials’ aversion to car-buying isn’t a temporary side effect of the recession, but part of a permanent generational shift in tastes and spending habits? It’s a question that applies not only to cars, but to several other traditional categories of big spending—most notably, housing. And its answer has large implications for the future shape of the economy—and for the speed of recovery.
Half of a typical family’s spending today goes to transportation and housing, according to the latest Consumer Expenditure Survey, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the height of the housing bubble, residential construction and related activities accounted for more than a quarter of the economy in metro areas like Las Vegas and Orlando. Nationwide, new-car and new-truck purchases hovered near historic highs. But Millennials have turned against both cars and houses in dramatic and historic fashion. Just as car sales have plummeted among their age cohort, the share of young people getting their first mortgage between 2009 and 2011 is half what it was just 10 years ago, according to a Federal Reserve study.
Needless to say, the Great Recession is responsible for some of the decline. But it’s highly possible that a perfect storm of economic and demographic factors—from high gas prices, to re-urbanization, to stagnating wages, to new technologies enabling a different kind of consumption—has fundamentally changed the game for Millennials. The largest generation in American history might never spend as lavishly as its parents did—nor on the same things. Since the end of World War II, new cars and suburban houses have powered the world’s largest economy and propelled our most impressive recoveries. Millennials may have lost interest in both.
☆ Where Beauty Means Bleached Skin (The New York Times)
Semiratu Zakaru was standing in the hot sun on a crowded noontime street explaining why Ghana’s new ban against certain skin-bleaching creams was unlikely to work, when her friend, Desmond Kwamina Odonkor, walked up and interrupted our conversation, oozing confidence and game.
“You have to stop bleaching,” he said, sotto voce. Then he winked at her and sauntered off.
Ms. Zakaru, a 23-year-old hairdresser, rolled her eyes. His advice, in her view, was rubbish for the simple reason that “all of his girlfriends are light-skinned.” She said she wasn’t about to stop using the Viva White cream and Clinic Clear lotion that had, over the last year and a half, made her skin several shades lighter than her original chocolate-milk complexion.
Here in the heart of the multibillion-dollar industry of products in West Africa that are meant to whiten skin, it is a world of mixed messages. Women are now being told that it is wrong, and even illegal, to bleach their skin. At the same time, they are flooded with messages — and not even subliminal ones — that tell them that white is beautiful.
☆ How A Hapless Bitcoin Entrepreneur Got Swept Up In The Crypto Craze And Started A Multimillion-Dollar Ponzi Scheme (BuzzFeed News)
Pelletier found investors on websites that allowed people to give and receive loans in bitcoin. On one site, he offered a fantastical interest rate of up to 19% a month. He said he would use the loans to buy new equipment, which would in turn enable him to be even more successful at mining bitcoin.
“All this [sic] profits go directly to finance our biggest project, like this one,” he wrote on one of his lending profiles, pointing to his Sephira Vision platform mentioned in the video.
Pelletier convinced dozens of people to lend him millions of dollars’ worth of bitcoin, sometimes with nothing more than a gentleman’s agreement that he would pay it back. But as the cost of bitcoin mining continued to climb and his mining strategy failed, Pelletier began using the bitcoin from new investors to pay the interest he owed others, creating what was in effect a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.
In a Facebook Messenger conversation with BuzzFeed News, Pelletier, 38, said he always intended to pay back the loans, and painted himself as an accidental Ponzi schemer.
☆ Men slack off when bonuses are replaced with salaries – but women work hard either way (Telegraph)
Male workers put in less effort at work when bonuses are cut and replaced with fixed pay, but women work just as hard either way.
Men slack off to such an extent that academics found a 12pc drop in effort in an experiment moving from piece rate payment – that is, being paid for each piece of work done – to a fixed rate.
It could have important implications for businesses and regulators trying to work out the best way to incentivise staff.
New rules in the banking sector, for example, have limited bonus payouts and increased salaries, which this study suggests could have adverse effects.
Five for Your Eyes – 008
So that was the eigth installment of “Five for Your Eyes“! I hope at least one of the articles intrigued you! Let me know what you think, or anything you thought was interesting!
If you have a recommendation for an article, please share them with me!