by Vadim Drobinin

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

17.11.2020 (read in browser)

On tapping beer

I am not a notable fan of beer and yet here we are.

A few weeks ago I ran a few errands and end up with the bits and pieces one needs to brew beer at home, pretty much from scratch, but in style.

The first batch of our very own American Pale Ale is barreled and does its fermentation magic. Tomorrow it will go to the fridge for additional few days of conditioning, and by the end of the week we will get it tapped and bottled, than design and print out label, stick them on the bottles, and most likely finish these first 10 pintes in a few weeks.

Beer never was of too much interest to me though, so I probably won't be terribly upset if it doesn't work out well. I have a very low bar anyway.

However, there is a decent selection of beer-based cocktails. Think any fizzy or low-ABV drink, but use a lager instead of tonic, or something zesty instead of lemonade, or even something rough, like a stout, instead of sweet vermouth.

And also tapping beer is fun. It doesn't mean pouring it from the tap – even though we will do that too – but instead it means the opening of a new beer keg or barrel, and usually it implies that this is some new or rare beer.

This one will be both rare and new.

In the meantime, I will stick to Martinis.

Things I enjoyed reading

1. What Gödel Discovered by @stopachka

This is a good article. It describes an intricate topic by utilising a programmer's intuition, not some mathematician's assuredness, and also is a pleasure to read.

Now, this doesn’t mean that all is for naught. For example, it may mean that we can’t write an algorithm that can think like a dog...but perhaps we don’t need to. The way neurons aren’t aware of a dog’s love of toys, our algorithms wouldn’t have to be either: perhaps a consciousness would emerge as epiphenomena in the same way. The idea of “think like a dog” just won’t be written down concretely.

We can’t prove within a system that it is consistent, but we could prove that using another system. But it begs the question of course: how could we prove that other system was consistent? And so on!

My first acquintance with the Gödel's theorem has happened on the edge between a high school and a university, and the fact that one could represent proofs of theorems with numbers, and eventually brute-force the rules of algebra and prove them within a program felt surreal back then. It does feel the same now as well, and yet I feel like the bigger picture made itself seen.

2. Essay: How do you describe TikTok? by @chaykak

The Levenshtein distance between two words is the minimum number of single-character edits (insertions, deletions or substitutions) required to change one word into the other.

I'd go further and define the Levenshtein distance between two terms, which is the minimum number of words one expects to see between two very unexpected terms.

So here is an essay, where the Levenshtein distance between the words "TikTok" and "ekphrasis" is zero, unless we count a preposition. How cool is that?!

In his aforementioned essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” Walter Benjamin wrote that “aura” was contained in the physical presence of a unique work of art; it induced a special feeling that wasn’t captured by the reproducible photograph. By now we’ve long accepted that photographs can be art, too; even if they’re reproductions, they still maintain an aura. The evolution that I’m grasping for here — having started this paragraph over many times — is that now, in our age of the reproducibility of anything, the meaning of the discrete work of art itself has weakened.

3. Having 170 competitors is not an obstacle by @vponamariov

I occasionally face (mostly aspiring) developers who can't focus on building a product without constantly worry about competitors. They fear that the idea could be stolen. They fear that someone has launched something similar a few weeks ago. They fear that too many people are building akin products.

Every week, every day, and every hour, a lot of new products are founded. By "products," I mean pretty much everything: a new store, a new SaaS, a new B2B company.

In most cases, something similar already exists. In most cases, you don't even have a USP (Unique Selling Proposition).

As the author rightfully points out in this honest albeit promotional post, nothing prevents you from taking something which already exists and make it better. My favourite example of that is "Calzy 3", a calculator app which won Apple Design Award in 2018. Surely there were already many calculators our there by 2018?

4. My Priceless Summer on a Maine Lobster Boat by Luna Soley

A lovely piece of a diary on escaping the likes of civilization to spend a few months on an island.

Lobstering is rhythm and speed. The trap comes up on the line of pot warp—the rope that runs through the water from buoy to trap—slick with algae and silt. You break it over the rail, slide it toward you, open it, unhook the old bait bag and sling in a fresh one, measure the lobsters, toss the shorts, drop the keepers in the call box, close the trap, slide it back, spin it perpendicular to the rail, race back to the bait tray, replenish the bait bag, band the claws if you have time, and then the next trap is coming over the rail and you’d better be there to catch it.

I also happy to take the word "fishing" for granted, and yet I never thought that there might be the word "lobstering" as well. C'mon, English, what's next? "Crabbing"?

5. “It Made My Brother Cry”: Your Worst Thanksgiving Disasters by Yasmine Maggio

A yet-another-sequel to my favourite narrative: the annual selection of Thanksgiving dinner failures.

Hot, wet, and slippery turkeys are NOT easy to lift, especially when all you have are a set of tongs and are standing on a step stool to make it happen! The turkey cavity slid down my arm, I immediately let go, and voilà! A slimy turkey landed on my kitchen floor.

I never understood the phenomenon of this celebration, and more importantly, ther reason people stress out about their dishes so much, and try to impress in-laws et al. Most probably, the closest kind of a celebration in Russia would be a birthday of someone senior, from the Soviet era but given that they happen more often than once a year, people pretty much learnt to stay cool.

Also it might have something to do with vodka but I won't be speculating on local customs.

6. Why renaming Git’s master branch is a terrible idea by Felipe Contreras

I applaud to the selection of fallacies, chosen to challenge the renaming of git's master branch.

While the reasoning behind the change is sound, the way it was implemented and the effects it has on users were significantly downplayed and we will have to pay for this decision in years to come.

The tests are done now, but all the documentation still needs to be updated. Not only the documentation of the project, but the online documentation too, and the Pro Git book, and plenty of documentation scattered around the web, etc. Sure, a lot of this doesn’t fall under the purview of Git developers, but it’s something that somebody has to do.

7. Plant Tweets, Part 1 by @SaraBee

This past week my monstera deliciosa, a lovely tropical houseplant, started to tweet. This is the first of two posts on this here skeleton of a blog showing how I helped it get its voice out into the internet. First, we’ll take a look at the hardware and code needed to read my plant’s mind; Part 2 will look at how those thoughts are broadcast to the world.

So I have read this post, and then had a look at my table... and what do I see? A plant, a Raspberry Pi, and a bunch of soil moisture sensors. Sounds like a weekend DIY project is solved.

8. A Cyrillic orthography for the Polish language by Jan van Steenbergen

As far as I am concerned, Cyrillic letters are wacky and yet powerful. While speakers of Latin-based languages rely on unspoken rules of pronounciation, the proud speakers of Russian and other languages powered by Cyrillic orthography use both the unspoken rules and the weird sounds these letters pack, especially once combined.

Ever wondered what Polish would look like if it were written in Cyrillic? Perhaps you have. Or not. In any case, I have. That's what happens when you spend half of your life working on language projects that one way or another are related to Polish or the Slavic languages in general. Toying around with Polish, Slavic, as well as with several Slavic orthographies, it is hard not to think about the possibilities of a Cyrillic orthography for Polish.

A surprising takeaway is, the Polish words written in Cyrillic is very easy to understand for a Russian speaker. Reading it in that form (even though it is fairly artificial) is way easier than listening to it, or facing the conventional representation.

9. Welcome to 2030. I own nothing, have no privacy, and life has never been better by Ida Auken

This article, written only four years ago by a Former Minister for the Environment in Denmark, is a great peek into the future we as engineers are collectively building.

When products are turned into services, no one has an interest in things with a short life span. Everything is designed for durability, repairability and recyclability. The materials are flowing more quickly in our economy and can be transformed to new products pretty easily. Environmental problems seem far away, since we only use clean energy and clean production methods. The air is clean, the water is clean and nobody would dare to touch the protected areas of nature because they constitute such value to our well being.

I would love to live in the world where one could purely rent things, not own.

Mostly because I am too tired to move this cumbersome juicer whenever we move to another house, but also because with great services comes great flexibility.

10. Mathematical “urban legends”

This is a great selection of "urban legends" among mathematicians.

Here's another great one: a certain well known mathematican, we'll call him Professor P.T. (these are not his initials...), upon his arrival at Harvard University, was scheduled to teach Math 1a (the first semester of freshman calculus.) He asked his fellow faculty members what he was supposed to teach in this course, and they told him: limits, continuity, differentiability, and a little bit of indefinite integration.

The next day he came back and asked, "What am I supposed to cover in the second lecture?"

Some people in the comments point out that the professor must have been working in Russia prior to that, hence the teaching style.

This is very true, but in Russia we cover these topics before the university, so I highly doubt that.

Things I didn't know last Tuesday

1. Roman multipliers

'The Writing Pen: a new book containing several alphabets and various moral judgements as well as descriptive formulae, bills of exchange, maritime policies, waybills, and other trade writings in the current style, with a final table of Roman numerals' is an approximate title translation for this slender 18th century Italian volume for improving handwriting skills.

What I didn't know though is a weird behaviour of Roman letters turning into multipliers:

Let's look at the changes starting from the thousand (M). The fact that an overline is indicates Roman numerals multiplied by a thousand is common knowledge, as well as Claudian letters (e.g Ↄ), but M can be used as a multiplier too, e.g IIM is not 998 (1000 - 2) but 2000, and VM is not 995 (1000 – 5) but 5000, and so on. LM is 50,000. Wow.

2. Chili thread

Here in the UK it is also known as Angel's hair, and while I tried them before I didn't know the name:

Sil-gochu (실고추), often translated as chili threads, chilli threads, or chili pepper threads, is a traditional Korean food garnish made with chili peppers.

Insider advice: put it on your cocktail as a garnish and enjoy subtle aromas they enhance the drink with.

3. bear (etymology)

Most languages did their best to avoid calling bears by their real name (so not to call for their attention):

Slavs also had the bear-naming taboo which is why Slavic words for "bear" like "medvěd" (Czech) or "медведь" (Russian) mean 'honey knower' (I've also seen 'honey eater' but knower seems more likely). In Polish the initial m became an n "niedźwiedź" and in Ukrainian the order is reversed "ведмідь"...

4. Gin rummy

I thought I played this game in my childhood.

Gin rummy, or simply gin, is a two-player card game created in 1909 by Elwood T. Baker and his son C. Graham Baker. It is a variant of rummy. It has enjoyed widespread popularity as both a social and a gambling game, especially during the mid twentieth century, and remains today one of the most widely-played two-player card games.

I never knew it has the word "gin" to its name. We always called it "An Alcoholic" (пьяница). However, apparently what we call "An Alcoholic" in post-Soviet countries, is a different game, known as the "War" or "Battle" to the English-speaking population.

So I didn't actually play gin rummy in my childhood.

5. Rome’s Secure Vault for Stolen Art

There is a vault at the edge of Trastevere in Rome, where the world’s oldest and largest art police unit, stores the thousands of artworks they seize every year.

It looks like the cellar of a compulsive hoarder, only instead of junk it overflows with treasures. Little paintings, very large paintings, some with golden frames, others unframed, devotional icons, altarpieces, some original, some fake, by medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and contemporary painters—Modigliani, Warhol, and Fontana are all present for my visit—plaster the otherwise blank walls. Roman, Greek, and Egyptian statues, a myriad of other archaeological artifacts, and dozens of boxes of all sizes fill black metal shelves.

6. Naming law

A naming law restricts the names that parents can legally give to their children, usually to protect the child from being given an offensive or embarrassing name.

So now, as the UK law prohibits names that "contain obscenities, numerals, misleading titles, or are impossible to pronounce", I can't really put this XKCD comics to life:

Maybe I can go to Russia, change my own name there and try again?

7. Grey Goose Vodka was created in reverse order

At 5:20 on a Sunday morning in the summer of 1996, Sidney Frank—liquor baron extraordinaire, dapper elderly gent, CEO of the Sidney Frank Importing Co.—picked up his phone in a fit of inspiration. He dialed up his No. 2 executive, who listened in a groggy daze as Frank proclaimed, “I figured out the name! It’s Grey Goose!”

What's great is that by the time the name has been created, there was no bottle, no label, and no vodka. The vodka production itself has started way later, once all market tests were finished. This is a decent example of how to launch mobile apps by the way. Start with the target audience and work it out in reverse order.

8. Soho walk-up

Not sure if I should be surprised by that, and yet despite many visits to Amsterdam I never thought that London has its own Red Light district (actually, a few!).

A Soho walk-up is a flat in Soho, London, United Kingdom, that is used by a female sex worker for the purposes of prostitution. The flats are located on the upper floors of buildings in Soho's red light district, often above shops, and accessed by a staircase from a door on the street.

What's even more interesting is that here prostitution is not illegal. Soliciting for prostitution is illegal. Living off immoral earnings (pimping) is illegal. Selling sex for money isn't.

9. kolaches

Guess the most favourite Texas dish?

Kolaches are Czech pastries made of a yeast dough and usually filled with fruit, but sometimes cheese. The ultra-traditional flavors — such as poppy seed, apricot, prune and a sweet-but-simple farmer's cheese — can be traced back to the pastry's Eastern European origin.

In Russia we call the Czech version "vatrushka" (ватрушка) and usually fill with quark in the middle, sometimes with the addition of raisins or bits of fruit. But there is also "kalach" (калач) which doesn't have a filling, and derives its name from the Old Slavonic word kolo (коло) meaning "circle".

10. Indian summer

An Indian summer is a period of unseasonably warm, dry weather that sometimes occurs in autumn in temperate regions of the northern hemisphere during September to November.

In Russia we call it "grandma's summer" (бабье лето) which is pretty much the same as in German ("Altweibersommer", old woman's summer). My favourite word for it is in Turkish though, they call it "Pastırma yazı" (bacon summer) because that's when they start preparing jerky beef.

Book of the week

This week I've been enjoying Benjamin Dreyer's witty remarks in his “An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style”:

If words are the flesh, muscle, and the bone of prose, punctuation is the breath. In support of the words you’ve carefully selected, punctuation is your best means of conveying to the reader how you mean your writing to be read, how you mean for it to sound. A comma sounds different than a semicolon; parentheses make a different noise than dashes.

This book – I was going to say "short brochure", but given how much time I have spent so far to cover the first three chapters, it is most certainly not a short brochure – this book is a great selection of dos and don'ts of writing as naturally as one speaks.

If what follows a colon is a full sentence, begin that full sentence with a capital letter, which signals to your reader: What’s about to commence includes a subject, a verb, the works, and should be read as such.
Post-colon lists of things or fragmentary phrases should begin with a lowercase letter: items on a grocery list, the novels of a particular author, etc.

And despite being ready to keep quoting the author again and again, as I made dozens of notes so far, I probably won't.

Instead you might see how my writing styles evolves over time.

Or not.

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! 🍸