TFV #2 – Is there an ISO standard for standards?
4 min read

TFV #2 – Is there an ISO standard for standards?

Note: This is one of a small series of emails I sent as part of an email newsletter project in 2015-2016 called Tales from Voyager. Learn more, or browse the full collection.

October 14 was a holiday I think no one on this subscription list knows about: International Standards Day. It honors the creation of voluntary standards of all kinds, ranging from those created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to the ones created by country-specific bodies such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and everything in between.

It's also definitely not a Hallmark holiday. Unless you send an ISO 7810 compliant holiday card. Hallmark needs to get in on that market.

These huge (inter)national bodies are tasked with ensuring that we have consistency, whether that's agreeing on what a kilogram is, ensuring wood charcoal is indeed wood charcoal, or making sure the floor mat in front of your office building is anti-slip enough.

Obviously there are some benefits to this kind of agreement, like not having to convert to and from morgens in farming conversations (a morgen is the approximate amount of land tillable by one man behind an ox in the morning hours of a day, and was used in South Africa until the 1970s). As a side note, Wikipedia has a surprisingly exhaustive list of these types of measurements, both unusual and humorous.

However. despite the existence of these standards bodies, and the millions of dollars they spend every year, they are still voluntary. There are in some cases laws which require compliance, but the bodies themselves are rarely charged with enforcement. I think that's unfortunate, because one of the things standards do best is reduce ambiguity.

I want to talk specifically about ISO 8601.

From XKCD: (This comic was also the inspiration for today's intro topic)

If you're like me, you run into the problem in this comic all the time - people who save files with dates in all kinds of weird formats. Knowing how many of you have day jobs involving computers, I bet most of you have experienced this at some point.

If you're also like me you're probably very annoyed by inconsistencies like this one (though I do believe the list of people passionate about consistency is significantly smaller).

If you seek a sense of consistency in your life, I encourage you to join me in an experiment: for the next few weeks I'm going to be adopting ISO 8601 as much as possible in my personal and work lives. That means using 24-hour time on every device possible, writing dates properly (already got this one on lock), and perhaps even using proper UTC time designations.

Basically if you are trying to schedule anything with me over the next few weeks you may want to either wait, or read the ISO 8601 Wikipedia article.

I'm not saying that all standards are good. I think like anything else prescriptive they fall into the trap of implying that there is only one "right" way to do something. But, I think the mission behind standardization is a pretty cool one, and one that maybe people don't know much about.


I would be remiss not to mention the Hotline Bling music video for anyone who has yet to witness Drake's dad-glorious dance moves. However, I think that's unfair to use for this week due to how quickly the video and its subsequent, glorious memes made the internet rounds.  


Kendrick Lamar is one of my favorite musicians; last week he performed with the National Symphony Orchestra in an epic live concert. Some of the videos from the performance have started to surface, and the live performance of "These Walls" is one of them.

Click the pic below for the video.

Wil Wheaton is an actor, famous dude on the internet, and geek. He wrote a post on Medium this week about how he changed around some things in his life. I was not expecting it to be much, but I found it pretty insightful. It resonated with some of the changes I'm trying to make in my own life, and is particularly topical as it relates to one of the reasons I started this newsletter. So meta.

I first discovered Blind Pilot in college, and occasionally rediscover them among all of the music I've saved in Spotify over the years. This week was one of those rediscovery weeks. 3 Rounds and a Sound (Spotify | YouTube) conveys feelings of peace, wholeness, and longing that I don't often come across in music. It's also a love song, which depending your interpretation is either about a failed relationship or a successful one.

The Story I Heard (Spotify | YouTube) is also a favorite and is one of my favorite songs, period. I like to think it's about the transience of life, but am curious to hear what you think.

This week's I do not have a gif but instead something arguably much cooler: TRAVIC

TRAVIC is a visualization of transit data for major cities around the world (the above link should center the map on the DC metro region), and it is AMAZING. The map uses open API data to display the movement of metro trains and city buses in real-time, with options to do cool stuff like speed up time, or monitor the status of a given transit route. When I found this I stared at the little dots moving around for longer than I would care to admit - they're mesmerizing.


See you space cowboy,