The Vinyl Resurgence, Overpriced Fighter Jets, and Sending Mail from Space — Startlingly Awesome and Refreshingly Modest #5

Donnie Clapp
Sep 15 · 5 min read

Editor’s note: this was originally posted via email on Sunday, September 8. If you’re sad that was so long ago, you should sign up to get these in your inbox when they’re fresh.

Okay, first, I hope you’re proud of yourself. Because of you, I’ve now done this five times in a row, which it puts it well beyond the realm of consistency anyone who’s been following my life for any amount of time might have predicted for this project (not counting the two weeks I was on vacation after issue #1, which obviously one would not count, and anyway the first one was sort of a beta test and I had to decide whether it felt as good as I thought it might, and the internet was spotty, and plus there was wine, and okay fine, you got me, I’ve now done this 4 times in a row.)

Oh, and a belated Pocket bonus tip: Sometimes, if you follow a link to read something and the site tells you you’ve reached your limit of free content for the month or otherwise won’t let you read it, adding it to Pocket will actually bypass that and let you read the whole thing. Not always, but sometimes.

1.

Remember records? Vinyl records?

Apparently they’re probably going to make more money than CDs this year [~1 minute read], which would mark the first time that’s happened since 1986.

There are two interesting tidbits from the above article. The first is that if my math is right, records go for about $26 on average, while CDs go for about $13. That’s quite a difference. I’m sure records cost more to make and ship, but, I mean, there are no lasers involved.

The second is that “despite vinyl’s growing popularity in relation to CD sales, it still accounts for a relatively small percentage of overall music purchasing.”

Well, yeah. Of course. It’s just a bunch of hipsters spending their money to status signal. Couldn’t add up to much. Probably too small to even show up on the radar.

Wait, what? 4% of all music sales? Soon to be 5%? That’s…1 out of every $20 the entire recording industry takes in. That’s bonkers!

The story of the music industry in the digital era is basically a Greek Tragedy.

2.

Sticking with outdated music recording formats and continuing my streak of introducing you to remarkably nerdy yet compelling YouTubers, I’d like to point you to this amazing look at cassette tapes and how they actually sound way better than you remember [~16 minute watch].

Seriously, this guy is just the best.

Or maybe not. Maybe I’m tickled by people that most people would find simply tiresome. Hit reply and let me know.

3.

In the late 1990s, the U.S. government decided it could save a lot of money in the long run by building one fighter plane for all three military branches.

The idea was sort of like the Model T plan, but for war machines: if they could increase volume by making the platform appealing to more users, production costs would decrease enough to offset all the development costs.

Two decades and one trillion dollars later, we have the F-35 and it’s actually starting to see some action. And the plan worked: the per-unit cost of an F-35 is expected to decrease to around $80 million soon, which is pretty much what an old F/A-18 Super Hornet costs.

However, a trillion dollars would have paid for a lot of more specialized but less complicated and compromising planes. And as this piece from the New York Times makes clear [~19 minute read], it’s been anything but a cut-and-dried success.

Worth a read to remind yourself just how hard it is to do something complicated.

What we really need is to capture an alien fighter saucer, have Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum use it to upload a hastily-written computer virus into the mother ship, and then reverse engineer it to super-charge our fighter jets without breaking the bank, while simultaneously rallying together as the human race and stopping all this silly bickering between nations. Come on, politicians! Get your acts together! If Bill Pullman can do it, you can do it.

4.

Perhaps the greatest treasure of the internet age is Randall Munroe, former NASA roboticist and writer of the digital comic XKCD.

Spend any time on Reddit or other discussion boards, and it is common for someone to answer someone who thinks they’ve had a novel idea by posting the relevant XKCD, in which Randall has already perfectly encapsulated the idea.

He’s got a new book coming out called How To: Absurd Scientific Advice fo Common Real-World Problems. And luckily for you, WIRED has decided to excerpt an entire excellent chapter called How to Mail a Package (From Space) [~15 minute read].

Warning: WIRED is doing something weird that is making it so that Pocket only gets a small excerpt of their story (and none of the illustrations), so you’ll want make sure and click through to actually read this one on WIRED’s website when it comes time.

If you like this, I can highly recommend his previous two books as well: Thing Explainer, where he uses only the 1,000 (or rather “ten hundred”) most common words in the english language to explain all the complicated stuff in the universe, and What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.

5.

Here’s a little taste of XKCD with today’s comic.

Note: when browsing xkcd.com, as I would highly recommend you now start doing on a regular basis, you have to be sure to hover over the image of the comic, as there is usually an extra punch line hidden in the little tooltip that shows up next to your mouse.

Here, I’ve included these “secret” tooltip in italics below the comic.

Tooltip: “They actually showed up on the first scan by the first WiFi-capable device.”

6.

Another guy who spent most of his life on a mission to rid the world of gayness has turned out to have been gay all along [~8 minute read].

I’m sensing a pattern.

Fin.

You’re the best. See you next week.

Donnie Clapp

Written by

Startlingly awesome and refreshingly modest. ️ https://contact.donnieclapp.com

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