by Vadim Drobinin

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

10.11.2020 (read in browser)


Over the weekend I have been reading one of the most unusual books I ever had, "S.".

On the first sight, it looks like a novel "Ship of Theseus" written by an elusive author V. M. Straka and published in 1949.

The pages are worn and yellowed, there are library stamps under cover, and stains on the pages.

If read alone in its entirety, this is a story of an amnesiac on an odd journey to discover himself.

However, there is a second storyline to it. The book was actually written by Doug Dorst and J. J. Abrams, and its beauty is in the book's margins: they are full of hand-written comments, notes, and discussions between to people, who trade the copy back and forth without meeting in person, and use the margins to solve the mystery of Straka's identity.

The notes are not chronological, and different pen colours as well as handwriting styles show that sometimes these are different dialogues in different moments in time.

On top of that, there are postcards, letters, maps, notes and so on, folded and inserted between pages, as these folks exchange clues on their journey.

So reading the novel itself, and at the same time keep up with the different story on the margins is already quite fun, but there is more to it as you gradually learn about hidden messages in footnotes and secret codes, and have to come back to get third, forth, and so on layer to the story you've already read.

It's not an easy reading, and yet it feels like an interactive detective story, very well spiced with a decent narrative and unexpected turns.

However, mostly I am fascinated by the printing quality, as all writings on margins and all materials inside are terribly realistic and look like they are real, not printed in bulk.

P. S.

This book was released in 2013 and is fairly popular. What's less known is the book by Vladimir Nabokov, called Pale Fire, and published in 1962, which was written in a very similar style. I think I know what I will be ordering next.

Things I enjoyed reading

1. What is Mind-Wandering and How You Use it To Your Advantage? by @durmonski

I really enjoyed this article on mind-wandering, and especially the parallel between mind-wandering instead of focusing on a task, and mind-wandering when interacting with nearest and dearest.

Your ability to recognize when your mind is self-generating thoughts can help beyond being more productive. It can enable you to become a better parent, partner, and friend.

We’re prone to think about ourselves and about things that interest solely us. And since other people are doing the same, instead of having a dialog with others, we’re mostly engaged in let-me-tell-you-about-me spectacles.

So once you manage to avoid self-generating thoughts and bring back the focus, not only your productivity gets better, but also the personal life.

Never thought about it from such perspective, and yet it does make so much sense!

2. Debugging JSON Data in LLDB by @soffes

When I debug things, I either stay true to my talk on advanced debugging techniques, or just print stuff out to the console, and being able to format JSON upon printing is the lifesaver.

Hopefully this saves you some time debugging network responses :)

Thank you Sam, it does indeed.

3. The Boundless Banality of Beige: A Rant by [Gloria Jaroff()

There is this famous saying, that the "Beige [the colour] Is Back", and it actually is but the author of the article argues that this is not as exciting as it might seem (mostly but providing great examples).

Hogwash to all of that. Near-white is the color of noncommitment. At some point, Dear Designer, you gotta take a stand. But the more fundamental problem with painting the world beige is the disconnect between those who produce and sell color products, those who employ them, and end-users who have to live with them. Profit, art, and comfort don’t necessarily overlap.

I find this to be true for mobile design too. While minimalism is great, and overfilling the screen with information reduces the product's value, don't forget about the design identity as well.

4. When Jewish Wives Beefed With Butchers and Changed the World by Scott D. Seligman

This is the story of the Great Kosher Meat Strike of 1902, and the way it shaped the modern protests and boycotts.

After the Sabbath, they returned to the streets to make certain no meat was being sold. Their retail butchers laid the blame on higher wholesale prices being charged by the local abattoirs. But the real culprits—those responsible for most of the problem—were actually hundreds of miles away.

This was the era of the trusts—combinations of companies that banded together to control markets. And a “beef trust” had emerged, not unlike the trusts in steel, oil, and railroads. The cartel of Chicago-based meat packers, with names like Swift and Armour, had struck a secret pact to divide territory, control supply, and fix prices

5. Review: A Counterfeit, $100 iPhone X by @Jason_Koebler

An old story, albeit a funny one, about a counterfeit iPhone X replica, which was doing pretty well at pretending to be a legit iPhone:

The researchers were initially wowed with the device, and were surprised that it used a Lightning port and a software notch. They assumed that the device was likely insecure, and kept it in a faraday bag, which blocks all incoming and outgoing wireless signals, to keep it from potentially causing any trouble at their office.

6. The English Word That Hasn’t Changed in Sound or Meaning in 8,000 Years by Sevingj Nurkiyazova

I haven't been to New York for half a decade, and yet a lox bagel is still very vivid in my memories. Surprisingly, the word itself is so old, it's been around even since the Proto-Indo-European language and didn't really change in its spelling or pronounciation.

The word lox was one of the clues that eventually led linguists to discover who the Proto-Indo-Europeans were, and where they lived. The fact that those distantly related Indo-European languages had almost the same pronunciation of a single word meant that the word—and the concept behind it—had most likely existed in the Proto-Indo-European language. “If they had a word for it, they must have lived in a place where there was salmon,” explains Guy. “Salmon is a fish that lives in the ocean, reproduces in fresh water and swims up to rivers to lay eggs and mate. There are only a few places on the planet where that happens.”

7. In Appalachia, a Plan to Save Wild Ginseng by Emily Cataneo

While drinking tea is a journey on its own, some folks are more into ginseng and that's where the story get way more mysterious.

These days, much of the ginseng consumed in Asia is grown as a large-scale cultivated crop in Wisconsin and Ontario. And Chinese customers can readily purchase ginseng tea packets bearing a “Made in Wisconsin” label. But wild ginseng remains valuable. It contains higher levels of ginsenosides than large-scale cultivated ginseng and is also seen as a status symbol; beautiful, intricate ginseng roots like the ones in Gao’s office are given as gifts and displayed as artwork, and they tend to fetch a much higher price in Eastern Asia, up to 25 times more per pound than cultivated ginseng.

8. An Oral History of 'Marge vs The Monorail', the Episode That Changed 'The Simpsons' by Sean Cole

I've been watching Simpsons for years now; what has started as a way to accompany a lunch break gradually turned into a way to shift focus during work breaks, and then eventually became a silly competition to finish all episodes available out there.

Among those, the fourth season is their Golden Age. It was quite hard for me to appreciate at first, mostly due to obscure cultural references, but over years I managed to get at least a peek into their humor and phylosophy, and this is a great way to remember some of the best parts of this magnum opus:

Featuring parodies of The Flintstones, The Music Man and several disaster movies, as well as a family of possums and some memorable lines from guest star Leonard Nimoy, “Marge vs. the Monorail” helped to chart a new course for The Simpsons. It also succeeded in putting Brockway, Ogdenville and North Haverbrook on the map. Twenty-seven years on from when it first aired, five key figures involved in making the episode shared their memories of creating a classic.

9. Silk Spinning - Polyphemus by Michael Cook

Worth opening the link and actually going through the whole step-by-step process of turning wild silk cocoons into yarn. This is amazing.

This is yarn that I made last year - it's a little heavier, and made from cocoons that were found in the wild. I think that the silk is darker because it sat through the winter wrapped in oak leaves with rain dripping on it.

10. Is it morally wrong to write inefficient code? by Tom Gamon

The author explores a moral dilemma of writing inefficient code given that it contributes to global warming.

The decisions we make as developers have real world effects.

If there are ways that we can reduce ‘programming waste’ we should strive to do so, whether that is changing an algorithm to be O(1), scaling down some cloud instances or killing of that Heroku dyno that’s not really doing anything useful4. Collectively we can make a real difference.

On that note, Sasha gave a series of great talks over the last two years on writing more battery-efficient code and hence saving the planet, which delves into that topic in a bit more details.

Things I didn't know last Tuesday

1. Premiere of Pinocchio in 1940

Do you know what happened at Pinocchio's premiere in 1940?

For the premiere of Pinocchio Walt hired 11 midgets, dressed them up like the little puppet and put them on top of Radio City Music Hall in New York with a full day’s supply of food and wine. [...] By the middle of the hot afternoon, there were 11 drunken naked midgets running around the top of the marquee, screaming obscenities at the crowd below.


2. Sujeonggwa

Think mulled cider, but non-alcoholic and served with nuts:

Sujeonggwa is a non-alcoholic Korean digestif made by simmering ginger, cinnamon, sugar, and water to make a warm, spiced, aromatic cross between a tea and punch. Traditionally, it's finished with dried persimmons and pine nuts for peak fall vibes.

3. Guillotine was introduced to replace more painful ways of execution

Ironic, that the Guillotin was named after a person who was against the death penalty in the first place.

...it was later named after Guillotin, who had advocated for a less painful method of execution instead of the breaking wheel, although he opposed the death penalty and bemoaned the association of the device with his name.

4. Alembic

An alembic is an alchemical still consisting of two vessels connected by a tube, used for distilling.

I've been playing with an idea of distilling (or better to say, rectifying) spirits at home, and alembics seem to be the most beautiful pot still I've seen so far, especially the glass ones.

5. We don't know why sand is soft

This came out as a surprise for me.

If you build an hourglass and fill it with sand grains with a known range of sizes and shapes, there is no formula to reliably predict how long the sand will take to flow through the hourglass, or whether it will flow at all. You have to just try it.

Now I pretty much question hourglasses as a concept, that's it.

6. Live is life

"Live Is Life" is a song originally recorded in 1984 by Austrian group Opus. It was a European number-one hit in the summer of 1985.

Two things I didn't know:

  • It's spelled "Live is life", not "Life is life"
  • It is about live music being better than recorded music, not some stoic views on being present

7. Manuka honey

There is some specific honey, native only to New Zeland, which heals scars.

This changed in 1980, when Dr. Peter Molan—a noted New Zealand biochemist—confirmed the antibacterial properties unique to the nectar produced from this particular plant. (Its healing properties had already been known in traditional Maori medicine.)

“All honey produces hydrogen peroxide when diluted,” says Von Eaton. “Only manuka honey, however, also contains those extra substances that allow it to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria commonly found in chronic wounds, bed sores and leg ulcers.”

And also the executive chef of Alinea (!) whips it into meringues with aerated goat cheese.

8. Apples and oranges

A comparison of apples and oranges occurs when two items or groups of items are compared that cannot be practically compared.

So while this English idiom is very straightforward, in Russian we'd "compare soft with warm" ("сравнить теплое с мягким"). I also just learnt that Romanians mention a grandmother with a machine guin (baba şi mitraliera), and Welsh talk about honey with butter (mor wahanol â mêl a menyn).

Wonder if that says anything about the folks in general (looking at you, Romania).

Spending time in my childhood at grandparents' always meant a cold glass of kefir with a heaping spoon of sugar just before going to bed. I always thought that this is a quite common drink across the world, but apparently

Kefir spread from the former Soviet Union to the rest of Europe, Japan, the United States by the early 21st century

Well folks, welcome to the beautiful world of fermented milk.

10. Chloroform

Almost every single movie with spyes involves a cholorofm-soaked rug used to make someone unconscious within seconds. Apparently that's a myth, and in the real world it is rarely used by criminals:

It takes at least five minutes of inhaling an item soaked in chloroform to render a person unconscious.

Book of the week

A funny fact from the most recent Harold McGee's book, "Nose Dive":

How is it that cacao beans generate such a dark color and full aroma when cooked at temperatures that would barely color a coffee bean or peanut? By being primed to do so. I learned this firsthand around 1995, when I visited cacao and chocolate producers in Venezuela, smuggled a few cacao pods home, and made chocolate in my California kitchen. When I removed the seeds from the large woody pods, cleaned off the sweet pulp, and immediately roasted them, I ended up with hard, dry lumps that smelled like dried pinto beans, nothing like chocolate. But when I let the extracted seeds and pulp sit out for a few days as cacao producers do, until they smelled yeasty and vinegary, then cleaned and gently dried the seeds, they already had a faint chocolate smell. Brief “roasting” in the toaster oven amplified it.

I grew up reading Harold's most famous book, "On Food and Cooking" over and over. It was fairly unusable in times, quite questionable in places, and yet totally irreplaceble.

This book is quite different.

So far I have quite mixed feelings, and mostly because I tend to read either something enjoyable, or something potentially helpful. This one is neither: it is not a particularly pleasant read, partly due to the amount of tables scattered across all chapters, and it is not that useful to me yet, as I don't see ways to apply it my usual cooking (or cocktail making) routine.

The amount of effort the author went through is fascinating nonetheless.

Thank you and see you in a week!

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Cheers! 🍸