Was really impressed with this simple, cheap idea to bring light to a region of Manila where people’s dwellings are typically very dark. Its design is doubly brilliant because not only does it solve a problem in an innovative and direct way (no need to wire for electricity or make any expensive, complicated steps) but it makes use of items that are usually thrown away (I mean, recycled!), both reducing waste and providing a benefit.

Speaking of good design, I found this compact ring-holder. It’s not only sleek and useful (perhaps only once), its design makes opening it dramatic and beautiful as well (“[the box is] constructed in a way that when opened, the ring has a blooming effect“). So why does it have to cost so much??

On a slightly related note, I heard an interesting interview with linguist Dan Jurafksy on Fresh Air (I always seem to be in the car during Fresh Air) discussing his research on food history and its linguistic roots. It turns out the technology we use in ice packs today was used in the 13th century in Syria, which is crazy! I always thought people had to rely on fermentation, salt and sugar as preservatives, and drying things out like jerky because they didn’t have refrigeration. But as it turns out:

SIEGEL: I learned from your book that the original ice cream flavor was orange blossom. And making it owed something to the development of gunpowder. Explain that one.

JURAFKSY: Yeah. Well, so the key ingredient in gunpowder is saltpeter. It was actually in China that they first figured out that saltpeter, also called potassium nitrate, could be mixed with sulfur and coal to create gunpowder. And that’s of course where fireworks came from originally.

SIEGEL: And then in Syria, there is yet another chemical development involving saltpeter.

JURAFKSY: Yeah. Sometime around the 13th century in Damascus, Syrian chemists figured out that saltpeter was a refrigerant. You could add it to water and it made the water cold. This was used in all sorts of Muslim countries – in Mogul India – as a way of cooling water. You put saltpeter in the water. And then you put a jug of water inside this saltpeter and water. It’s the same technology that’s used in modern cold packs.

SIEGEL: This is before using actual ice. Saltpeter was used to chill things.

JURAFKSY: Well, you could use ice. But ice is expensive. You have to bring it down from the mountains. You have to store it in these ice houses. So ice was certainly been used. They’ve been storing ice in ice houses for thousands and thousands of years. It’s mentioned in the Bible. But saltpeter’s much cheaper.

Doesn’t orange blossom ice cream sound amazing?

Related to that, I heard on the radio today that most of the world’s hazelnuts are grown in Turkey, and that Nutella buys a quarter of the world’s supply! That kind of blew my mind, too.

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