by Vadim Drobinin

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

02.02.2021 (read in browser)

On going through

The first month of 2021 has passed and that was blazingly fast.

On this week's culinary adventures I decided to make some pistachio paste: mostly to simply eat with a spoon.

However, most of the recipes from the people I trust call for either a conche or a very powerful food processor, and I have only an immersion blender. The problem with blenders in general is that their blades are heating the nuts, which release the oil, which breaks on top and prevents the mixture from forming a silky paste.

I thought that will be my only concern.

I was wrong.

It started way before, when I bought some pistachios and realised that I have to blanch them: steep in cold water, heat but not boil, dry up, and manually remove all skin one by one.

The first 50 g took me almost an hour.

The rest 250 g followed up quicker: another three hours and I was done.

Apparently, starch-based icing sugar doesn't work well enough for spreads and I didn't have any tapioc-based sugars at hand, so had to reduce the amount and double up on orange water and pistachio oil.

The latter is actually a new thing to me. Slightly nutty, with subtle toasted notes, and not too viscose – I should've get a bigger bottle.

Luckily even though I had to whip by hand more than with the blender, the paste worked out quite well. It should be fine in the fridge for a month, but we will definitely finish it way faster.

Things I enjoyed reading

1. Chronicles of a Bubble-Tea Addict by @JiayangFan

Personally I never liked bubble-tea for it's too sweet and inconvenient to consume silently, but this post is a great trip back down the memory lane:

There was only one flavor of boba back then—black tea with sweetened condensed milk and balls of tapioca—and the cups had annoyingly flimsy lids that leaked at the slightest jostle. This provided a solid excuse to sit down at one of the bakery’s unwiped chrome-rimmed tables, where I’d sip my tea and indulge in my second-favorite activity in Chinatown: people-watching.

I'd struggle to come up with a dish (or a drink) which stayed with me throughout my whole life: preferences come and go, even though some of them linger for years and years.

2. A Vast Web of Vengeance by @kashhill

An almost-horror-story of how many lifes could be affected by search engines and social platforms, manipulated by a malicious person.

Guy Babcock was about to discover the power of a lone person to destroy countless reputations, aided by platforms like Google that rarely intervene. He was shocked when he discovered the identity of the assailant, the number of other victims and the duration of the digital violence.

The more widespread the Internet becomes, the more often that could happen.

3. The iconic watches that inspired Apple Watch faces by @zhenpixels

I grew quite fond of Apple Watch faces (and wrote about my most recent favourite here), so this story about their past, present, and future was rather entertaining.

In particular, the analog faces reveal what Apple does so well — taking the familiar and making it their own. Over the years, they have released quite a few faces with roots in history. Each one started as an iconic watch archetype and was remade to take advantage of the Apple Watch platform.

Don't forget to check out all the visuals.

4. How we made the Guardian’s style guide checker by Jonathon Herbert, Sam Hession, Thalia Silver and Justin Rowles

A really nice story about building a style guide checker. With a company's growth all these rules become quite hard to adhere to, and modern technologies seem to be the answer.

No matter the complexity of the work that goes into managing what text to check and when, it should always be easy to write a matcher. It’s a function that receives the ordered sequence of text fragments that describe a document, and asynchronously passes back information about any matches it has found when they’re ready. It’s up to the rest of the system to figure out what to pass to the matcher, and what to do with the results.

5. A Look at iMessage in iOS 14 by Samuel Groß

If you've missed a new iOS release some time ago, please do yourself a favour and don't delay an update, as it fixes quite a few nasty vulnerabilities. This is one of those rare posts from Google's Project Zero team about iOS, which ends up with some positive notes, love it!

Overall, these changes are probably very close to the best that could’ve been done given the need for backwards compatibility, and they should have a significant impact on the security of iMessage and the platform as a whole. It’s great to see Apple putting aside the resources for these kinds of large refactorings to improve end users’ security.

6. This IoT Mesh Network Watches You As You Shop - Without Cameras by Adam Dunkels

One of the first companies I worked for were focused on selling physical goods in physical stores, and yet they've been very obsessed with tracking visitors, so I mostly built things with iBeacons and NFC-tags. This is probably the next level, pretty much impossible to achieve in an ordinary Russian shop more than a decade ago:

Understanding customer behavior is key to improving the experience for everyone. The sensors detect when people are looking at items. And they report this immediately, so that we can see in real-time where shoppers are.

A network with vibration and light sensors is more private, hence won't be banned as easily as cameras with human recognition. And yet it gives great precision and real-time updates. That's nice.

7. IKEA and the future of living by Karl

It might look like Amazon vs IKEA might be an unfair comparison, but IKEA seems to be far ahead, especially in terms of sustainability and building a better future.

Just as Amazon is not a company selling books exclusively anymore, IKEA will be playing a much larger role in our lives in the near future. The two may even be each other’s biggest competitor in areas such as smart home appliances and augmented reality or the food sector. IKEA is also aiming to reach 3 billion customers by 2025, by investing in city-centre locations rather than out of town stores, and offer some of the more requested products and services.

I am all-in, as far as they keep selling hot-dogs.

8. The architecture of my life by artijn Steenbergen

I can wholeheartedly second the idea of automation for the sake of automation. Even if the time is not saved "on paper", the amount of mental burden it removes usually worths it.

Automation is something dear to my heart. Like the figure at the top of this post, I am not sure that in the end it will have actually saved me time, but it has given me many opportunities to learn, as trying to build a resilient piece of software with a beautiful architecture, which helps me be more productive is an ever-evolving project, which will keep pushing me to learn more. I hope with this I can inspire you to automate some part of your life.

However I am not yet automating the lights in the room to make me look better on remote calls. Maybe I should?

9. Reconstructing the Menu of a Pub in Ancient Pompeii by Farrell Monaco

A great attempt at restoring the possible selection of drinks and dishes in an ancient pub.

This includes the imagery in the frescoes painted on the service counter and the contents of the amphorae and the dolia. One dolium contained the bones of duck, swine, goat, and fish, as well as shells from land snails. The duck bones in particular correspond to the fresco of two mallards painted on the front of the counter, perhaps as a pictorial menu for the illiterate majority at the time.

There even some recipes in the article, really tempted to make some open fire and try to reproduce them.

10. Automating My Job with GPT-3 by Brian Kane

For those claiming that computers would never take our jobs, here is an example how the most trendy machine learning algorithm became capable of taking a job from some junior data scientist.

Now, I've got a GPT-3 instance that take a plain English question and translates it to SQL that really works on my database. It's not always perfect, and still needs some handholding for more complex concepts like "growth rate" or "percent" but it's definitely useful. Now I can save a little time when I have a simple question that needs to be asked about my database, and don't feel like writing the SQL myself.

Stay safe, learn faster than computers.

Things I didn't know last Tuesday

1. Subway ‘Tuna Sandwich’

I kind of knew that, but apparently whatever is in Subway tuna sandwiches, it doesn't contain the actual tuna. Or any fish.

According to a new lawsuit, Subway’s tuna sandwiches contain “no scintilla of tuna at all” — “anything but tuna,” in fact.
“We found that the ingredients were not tuna and not fish,” attorney Shalini Dogra told the Washington Post, declining to disclose the specifics.

If you remember, recently we've learnt that Subway's bread can't be called "bread" either.

2. Matzah ball

Now I know how to explain to an average New Yorker what soup I had in my childhood:

Ashkenazi Jewish soup dumplings made from a mixture of matzah meal, beaten eggs, water, and a fat, such as oil, margarine, or chicken fat. Matzah balls are traditionally served in chicken soup and are a staple food on the Jewish holiday of Passover.

3. Oranger Suspendu

There is an orange tree, floating on some street in Tel Aviv as a piece of modern art:

Key Meanings: 'Enracinement-Deracinement', the last 'Jaffa Orange', Genius Loci, lost orange groves, minimal life unit, new-lighter existence

4. HP stands for 'Houses of Parliament'

I had a plenty of HP sauce before but never though what the abbreviation stands for:

If you didn't know, HP stands for 'Houses of Parliament' as it was rumoured the sauce was used in the restaurant there, back at the turn of the 20th century.

Seems like they didn't joke calling it one of the British staples.

5. Russian tea cake

So there is this pastry very popular in the States during Christmas.

Russian tea cakes have a relatively simple recipe, generally consisting entirely of flour, water, butter, and ground nuts, the nut variety depending upon the cookie type. After baking, they are rolled in powdered sugar while still hot, then coated again once the cookie has cooled.

The problem is, it has nothing to do with Russia, or tea, or cakes for that matter.

I am deeply confused.

6. Onions have 5 times more DNA than humans

Researchers were trying to understand why some species have more DNA than others and came up with the Onion test:

The onion in your vegetable drawer has five times more DNA than humans. So if you’re a researcher who thinks that non-coding DNA has a particular function in the genome, can you explain why an onion needs about five times more of it than a human to do the same thing?

7. French paradox

There is a belief that high consumption of saturated fats (e.g Brie cheese) increases the risk of the coronary heart disease. However that doesn't work with France, where the diet heavily relies on such fats, and yet the disease is not more common.

I love some of the possible explanations:

It has been suggested that France's high red wine consumption is a primary factor in the trend. This hypothesis was expounded in a 60 Minutes broadcast in 1991. The program catalysed a large increase in North American demand for red wines from around the world. It is believed that one of the components of red wine potentially related to this effect is resveratrol [...].

8. Saville Theatre

This place was famous for multiple reasons, namely for the concrete art piece outside, which depicts various theatrical presentations throughout history: from minstrels to the characters of the 20th century.

The building opened in 1931 as the Saville Theatre and was converted to a cinema in 1970. It is currently used as an Odeon Cinema.

I've been there a few times but never noticed it.

9. Posture Taping

There is a certain approach to treating posture issues by taping muscles to each other:

Posture Taping is used as a posture habit re-education reminder. This Posture Reminder, applied to the skin is a 24-hour reminder to have proper posture. Posture Taping improves proprioception of the Posture System, and serves as a trigger to correct your clients’ posture when they start to slump.

10. Sky pilot

Since 1865 "sky pilot" is used as a synonym to a preacher, and that is one hell of a chain of thoughts:

"The honest salt boards the ship, and takes her out to sea, or brings her into port.… But the sky-pilot does not go with you. Oh dear no! That is no part of his bargain." "Sky pilot" has never been a very common term, but it's actually a tad more common today than it was when Foote's book was published.

Book of the week

Given that I passed through the Dry January with flying colours, it's time to get ready for some exciting hand-mixed concoctions.

A lot of my recent inspiration comes from Mr Lyan's Good things to drink:

We all know a meal made with love can bring people together. Well for me, there’s no better route to fun times with friends than serving up good things to drink. This might be down to my own nostalgia – I have great memories attached to enjoying (or making) certain drinks at a specific place or get-together. But when you notice how a well-made cocktail can complement and enhance a social occasion (just as much as food!), it’s a huge joy.

I haven't met him in person (yet), despite being a member of a private club where he is in charge of the cocktail menu. However, I have tried his drinks before, thanks to the wonderful world of guest bartending, and they pretty much reflect the same curiousity he writes about.

A cocktail is a one's way to explore the world of weird and wonderful things through drinks, not a way to get wasted as soon as possible.

On that note I stock up with some more exciting ingredients.

Activated charcoal, N-Zorbit, dried grashoppers? Something is coming.

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! 🍸