by Vadim Drobinin

Your weekly crème de la crème of the Internet is here!

29.09.2020 (read in browser)

On appropriate solutions

There is a great story I often tell folks starting in the field:

A toothpaste factory had a problem. The way their production line was set up caused occasional shipping of empty boxes without tubes inside, as timing on production lines is one of the most complicated problems to solve in plants design.

Given the importance of the issue and its effect on potential customers, the CEO gathered all the top people and they have decided to outsource the problem to an experienced engineering company.

After numerous stages, $8 million dollars, and six months of work, the problem was solved: the high-precision scales would notice empty boxes, stop the line and ring a bell, so an employee could come, remove the empty box and restart the line.

A short time later, the CEO had a look at the ROI and got amazing results. Some time later they checked how many boxes were caught by the scales and were surprised that they didn't catch anything for the past month.

Perplexed, the CEO has come to the factory and found a $20 desk fan just before the scales, which was blowing off any empty boxes. The employees explained that they were too tired of walking there and restarting the line, so came up with a simple solution.

Sometimes a simple or cheap solution doesn't mean bad. If only more people would keep that in mind!

Things I enjoyed reading

1. The Perverse Panic over Plastic by John Tierney

A mandatory disclaimer: this is an article in a conservative publication by an author with a history of denying climate science, however it has a few points I do agree with and I have truly enjoyed reading thoughts from a different perspective.

Single-use plastic bags are the worst environmental choice at the supermarket.

Wrong: they’re the best choice. These high-density polyethylene bags are a marvel of economic, engineering, and environmental efficiency: cheap and convenient, waterproof, strong enough to hold groceries but so thin and light that they require scant energy, water, or other natural resources to manufacture and transport. Though they’re called single-use, surveys show that most people reuse them, typically as trash-can liners.

2. The Chart That Lies by @jordanmorgan10

This is an interesting take on different means to motiviation (and also on how to ship products with 3 kids):

The part that keeps me motivated, though - is that you get to define what success looks like. It’s mutable, and typically it means something a little bit different to all of us with some evergreen themes attached to each of the definitions we hold. Though the playful charts show a dollar sign to signify success, it doesn’t have to look like that for you.

3. My hacking adventures with Safari reader mode by Nikhil Mittal

Reader mode was meant to be, well, for making something more readable. And yet it does a bit more things behind the curtains, and might be making a website less secure than it was initially.

Safari on macOS and iPhone comes with the reader mode feature as well, which works pretty fine. But you might never know when a feature meant to protect would turn against you.

4. Seeing Our Own Reflection in the Birth of the Self-Portrait by Jason Farago

A great example of the journalism meeting modern technologies: this is how I envision reading in the 21st century (however to appreciate it to its full extent you mind need to read it on a decently sized screen).

The rich, fur-lined coat is an outfit suitable for a nobleman or a scholar — not someone who works with his hands. He’s showing off his painterly skill here, picking out every bristle. But he’s also affirming that he sees himself as more than a mere technician.

5. He Invented the Rubik’s Cube. He’s Still Learning From It by Alexandra Alter

I am into Rubik's cube for the last decade or so: they have saved me from boring lessons at school and commute from a dormitary to the university (and one hour and a half one way would be quite boring otherwise), so getting the creator's perspective on its qualia is quite remarkable:

Rubik, 76, is lively and animated, gesturing with his glasses and bouncing on the couch, running his hands through his hair so that it stands up in a gray tuft, giving him the look of a startled bird. He speaks formally and gives long, elaborate, philosophical answers, frequently trailing off with the phrase “and so on and so forth” when circling the end of a point

6. Writing a book: is it worth it? by @martinkl

Despite being a less successful writer (the revenue from the book I have published in 2016 would barely cover my annual coffee intake), I concur most of the ideas in the post:

Part of the success of my book might also be explained by the fact that I put a lot of effort into promoting it. Since the book went into early release I have given almost 50 talks at major conferences, plus a bunch of additional invited talks at companies and universities. Every single talk contained at least a small advertisement for my book.

7. The Fresh Smell of ransomed coffee by @thinkcz

That moment when you wake up in the morning, come to the kitchen... and your smart coffee machine is taken over by some cryptocurrency miners which as for a ransom.

Additionally, this case also demonstrates one of the most concerning issues with modern IoT devices: “The lifespan of a typical fridge is 17 years, how long do you think vendors will support software for its smart functionality?”. Sure, you can still use it even if it’s not getting updates anymore, but with the pace of IoT explosion and bad attitude to support, we are creating an army of abandoned vulnerable devices that can be misused for nefarious purposes such as network breaches, data leaks, ransomware attack and DDoS.

Such a time to be alive.

8. The Long Golden Age of Useless, American Crap by Wendy A. Woloson

One of my biggest fears is to turn the flat into a flea market. Apparently there is a nation which is doing that in real-life:

Living in a world of crap was not inevitable. But for various reasons, Americans forged consuming habits that are now ingrained in the nation’s very DNA. In an age of material surfeit, we continue to spend money on things we do not need, often will not use, and likely do not even want.

9. How tweet threads cured my writer's block: Twitter as a medium for sketching by @geoffreylitt

Now I am just curious whether I should start posting the most hilarious facts from the digest in my Twitter on some weekly basis.

Providing the right constraints isn’t always a matter of removing. It can require adding advanced capabiliites too, like this typeface design tool that uses fancy machine learning to provide a few simple knobs for controlling things like “bold.” It doesn’t let you move individual vector points, but instead lets you operate at a more natural level of abstraction.

Things I didn't know last Tuesday

1. Confit Byaldi

Does it look familiar?

Yes, the "ratatoulle" in the famous movie is actually a different dish:

Well, I have an issue with all of that, because as far as I'm concerned, the dish in the movie isn't ratatouille, no matter how you slice it—or, actually, specifically because of how you slice it and then cook it.

2. nincompoop

We came across this word while watching "Enola Holmes" on Netflix. A beautifully filmed movie, and if one learns at least a single new words then it definitely worths the time.

nincompoop (plural nincompoops)

(derogatory) A foolish or silly person. [from 16th c.]

Also the etymology of the word is quite a story (there are a few; my favourite one is that it comes from Latin non compos (mentis), “not of sound mind”).

3. Bramble Bank Cricket Pitch

The UK is for curious minds. Want to play cricket? Come to that piece of land once a year, have some fun.

Each year, the Royal Southern Yacht Club (RSrnYC) and the Island Sailing Club meet on the sandbar for a game of cricket. The match takes place when the bank is exposed but never lasts very long before the tide returns. The undulating surface with large puddles ensures it is more a social occasion than a serious cricket match, and the scoring reflects this - the victor of the game is pre-determined, and the two clubs simply take it in turns to "win" the match, regardless of play.

4. Walt Disney was against the spaghetti-eating scene in Lady and the Tramp

A good example of perseverance being fruitful:

Although the spaghetti eating sequence is probably now the best-known scene from the film, Walt Disney was prepared to cut it, thinking that it would not be romantic and that dogs eating spaghetti would look silly. Animator Frank Thomas was against Walt's decision and animated the entire scene himself without any lay-outs. Walt was impressed by Thomas's work and how he romanticized the scene and kept it in.

5. kokumin no kyūjitsu

Coming from a country with almost a month of public holidays per year, I am surprised they don't have such a law back there.

Additionally, any day that falls between two other national holidays shall also become a holiday, known as kokumin no kyūjitsu (国民の休日, literally "citizens' holiday").

6. Spijkenisser Eurobruggen

When the Euro bills were introduced, one of the requirements was that the bridges on the design should not really exist, to avoid discussions between countries but Dutch decided to build them all once the bills were printed (which was and is perfectly legal).

7. rectifier’s license

I am always up for a challenge; and one of my challenges is to set up a small pot still at home and distil random gin concoctions. Apparently that's quite easy to do even in a legal way:

When we make gin we are re-distilling a neutral spirit with your botanicals. Which according to the law makes you a rectifier and not a distiller. And a rectifier’s license is much easier license to get.

8. St Giles Rookery

There is a famous part of London which is now full of high street shops and fancy bars. It wasn't like that before:

In the 18th century the Rookery was a home to the “Irish and aliens, beggars and dissolute and depraved characters”, and William Hogarth created a series of prints with inspiration garnered from the residents of ‘Little Ireland’ or ‘The Holy Land’ as it was known. Gin Lane is a representation of the poor from this slum, and drink was deemed the root cause of their problems.

9. cured blueberries

One could use salt and blueberries to make a non-alcoholic red wine.

Some other drinks Alexis has been concocting include a Pineapple Tonic and a delicious tannic Blueberry Wine (she gets tannins by curing blueberries with juniper for a few days, then juicing).

10. Mushroom management

That reminds me of some places I worked for before.

The term mushroom management alludes to the stereotypical (and somewhat inaccurate) view of mushroom cultivation: kept in the dark and fed bullshit.

Book of the week

From the "Further adventures in search of perfection" by Heston Blumenthal:

It is often said that Indian food in British restaurants bears little resemblance to the real thing: it's a hybrid, concoted by Bangladeshi chefs to cater to British tastes. This line of argument usually presents chicken tikka masala as Exhibit A. Chicken tikka is an Indian dish in which chunks of chicken are marinated in yoghurt and spices, then skewered and cooked in a tandoor oven. Masala, on the other hand, means simply 'a mixture of many spices'. According to The Oxford English Dictionary it got yoked to chicken tikka on British menus in the mid-1970s.

My first introduction to the Indian cuisine has happened in India, somewhere on the border of Goa and Karnataka states.

It was spicy, flavourful, and felt fairly unsafe to consume. I loved it though, and spent hours perfecting Kenji's chicken tikka masala recipe just to come to London and learn that it is in fact a British dish.

No regrets though.

Thank you and see you in a week!

If you have any questions, or want to suggest a link for the next newsletter, please drop me a message on Twitter or reply to this email.

Cheers! 🍸