by Vadim Drobinin

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

04.08.2020 (read in browser)

I was thinking about craft versus art recently.

Craft to me is all about studying, and then refining techniques based upon experience. Art is different, albeit it’s built on shoulders of craft.

Art is applying creativity to the studied skills.

As I have mentioned during the previous few newsletters, I am on a quest to write. But as one must learn scales to be a musician, or learn to mix colours to be a painter, or learn the cocktail templates to be a mixologist, I need to go through numerous attempts in order to refine the technique.

Sometimes to write more, sometimes to write better, sometimes to be more consistent.

Weekly writing

Over the weekend I had a chance to stay tête-à-tête with an iPad and without the Internet, so I have drafted up a few posts.

Here is the first one in series: on reinventing wheels, adhering to best practices, and verifying localisation in iOS apps with Github Actions.

My other passion besides writing is mixology, and bartending is a craft too: a very careful study of ingredients and the way their combinations work, and then the way people think, and hours, hours of practice to combine all these bits into a favour-packed story, poured into a frosty cold piece of glassware.

To document my walkthrough in the world of high spirits and low bar shelves, I occasionally do share some findings on my Telegram channel, The Stirred Art.

Right now it’s on the course of covering the staples of mixology, the so-called “templates” which can be used to turn any selection of bottles into a lovely drink. The today’s topic is the third template, the Whisky Highball:

While the classics call for 2 oz scotch, 6 oz seltzer, and a lemon wedge as a garnish, I tend to pour 4 oz seltzer for mellow spirits and 5 oz for more assertive ones.
The ice clearly [sic] needs to be as transparent as possible, given that it’s one of the main ingredients (there are not that many in the drink anyway).

Keep reading >

Things I enjoyed reading

1. Your calendar should be a whitelist, not a blacklist by @mcrittenden

Since reading about makers vs managers schedule I always feared impromptu meetings, late notice discussions, or just people occasionaly walking into my calendar and booking off a half of the day.

Here is to a better approach: instead of protecting parts of your day by creating fake events, putting "Thinking time" or "Sole work", reverse the situation and introduce "office hours" -- slots of time which can be booked for meetings.

Scheduling meetings should be a little bit painful. You should have to really want it. You should be forced to question yourself. Is this actually worth me going to the trouble of figuring out how to schedule this meeting? Or could it instead be an asynchronous discussion?

2. Parsing Pokémon Red and Blue Maps by @peterhajas

An almost-detective-story about building a connection between Pokemon Red and Blue, and the way the original GameBoy used to render grey colours, and then rendering maps in console using emojis.

If these 90 bytes were used to encode this information, that would mean we’d be allocating 4 “squares” of information per byte, which would only allow for 2 bits-per square. This would restrict us to 4 types of squares for the game. There are more types of tiles in Pokémon maps than 4 - you can see the variety used in Pallet Town above - so we’ll have to look deeper.

3. A Brief History of (Modern) Time

A few interesting facts here, and a nice reading overall. Coming from a country which was 13 days behind Western Europe until 1918, and still has at least 11 time zones, I was always fascinated by others' efforts to make one's life harder:

American railways recognized 75 different local times in 1875; three of those were in Chicago alone. In Germany, travellers had to clarify whether departures were according to Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, Ludwigshafen, or Frankfurt time.

4. One Byte to rule them all by Brandon Azad, Project Zero

Over the last few years the state of Apple ecosystem's security was in decline, even though the majority of noticible exploitations used to follow the same pattern: memory corruption and fake Mach ports were used to gain access to the kernel task port, and then work from there for read/write access.

This one is special for it is a different technique: turn a one-byte controlled heap overflow directly into a read/write primitive for arbitrary physical addresses.

When I started on this journey, I had intended to demonstrate that the conventional approach of going after the kernel task port was both unnecessary and limiting, that other kernel read/write techniques could be equally powerful. I suspected that the introduction of Mach-port based techniques in iOS 10 had biased the sample of publicly-disclosed exploits in favor of Mach-port oriented vulnerabilities, and that this in turn obscured other techniques that were just as promising but publicly less well understood.

5. Why You Should Do NLP Beyond English by @seb_ruder

I remember how I was working on my talk on Natural Language Processing in Swift for the iOSDevUK, which takes place in a beautiful part of Wales.

Naturally, I though it'd be fun to use Welsh examples instead of relying on my usual set of Russian, English, and occasional Dutch words.
However despite Apple's efforts to build as versatile toolkit as possible, there was no Welsh support for the most basic operations (e.g words embedding), and that would've been fixed if only more people were aware of the problem:

We encode assumptions into the architectures of our models that are based on the data we intend to apply them. Even though we intend our models to be general, many of their inductive biases are specific to English and languages similar to it.

The lack of any explicitly encoded information in a model does not mean that it is truly language agnostic.

6. Make it now: the rise of the present tense in fiction

A nice take on attention spans and the way language (and grammar!) shape out thoughts:

Barry is looking for a more intimate relationship with the reader, as if the novel is “being whispered into your ear, late at night, in some dank bar in the west of Ireland”. Perhaps even whispering is too remote, the novelist continues. “I think it is a case of trying to plant a voice inside the reader’s head, to make him or her hear the words as they read them … to make them read with their ears, essentially. You’re aiming to mesmerise, and for me that’s the quality that the best fiction has. It’s a mesmeric force.”

7. The Joy of Eating Mutura, Nairobi’s Blood Sausage of Ill Repute by @CareyBaraka

If I ever have to write about fire-grilled goat intestines sewn together and stuffed with a mixture bound by fresh blood, I want to do it like that:

In your mouth, it crumbles, the innards spicy with a slightly greasy flavor, the fat soft and succulent and rich, and the garlic and cilantro and scallions and chile giving you an ambrosial kick. Around you the smoke from the mutura on the grill rises, flooring you. I think of Edward Lee, who, in Smoke & Pickles, writes, "Some say umami is the fifth [taste] in addition to salty, sweet, sour and bitter. I say smoke is the sixth."

8. ‘Success Addicts’ Choose Being Special Over Being Happy

A refreshing view on success addicts (and partly on quitting alcohol and substances):

In business, people often say, “You are what you measure.” If you measure yourself only by the worldly rewards of money, power, and prestige, you’ll spend your life running on the hedonic treadmill and comparing yourself to others.

9. Zoom Security Exploit – Cracking private meeting passwords by @TomAnthonySEO

The tale as old as the Internet: default 6 character passwords, a broken CSRF, and no rate limits mean that Zoom passwords could be bruteforced within minutes. However I strongly recommend checking out the post as it's a great example of a bug report.

10. How To Become Convincing by @danielgross

A great set of advice on planting ideas in others' heads.

Direct a movie. Suppose you want someone to quit smoking. The fantasy you want to plant is how youthful they’ll feel when they stop. The most effective way to incept a person isn’t to say those words. Instead, say something like: “it must feel wonderful to run 3 miles in the wilderness, take a breath of fresh air and really live life.” Conduct a movie in the mind with words that evoke vivid imagery. It makes for a much more engaging conversation.

11. UTF-8 bit by bit

Imagine you are on an unhabitated island without any belongings and urgently need to read a UTF-8 string bit by bit? I've got you covered.

I imagine a UTF-8 string as a railroad. It operates single-unit railcars (one-byte ASCII characters, to be known from the fact that the highest bit is 0), and trains (sequences of two or more bytes that together form a character). Each train consists of exactly one locomotive (you see I'm European) and one or more trailers. The locomotive indicates the length of the train, including itself, in the highest bits that form a consecutive row of 1's, and one 0 bit.

12. Harry Potter and the Mnemonic Major System by Kris Fris

Since I've watched the BBC's Sherlock Holmes, and learned about the method of loci, I was fascinated by mnemonics.

I always enjoyed reading Harry Potter too.

So here comes the post where the best of both worlds is spiced with some Python code to show how to build a mnemonic system from scratch.

Things I didn't know last Tuesday

1. Coat of arms of Ireland

The harp on the Irish coins, passports, et cetera is left facing (i.e mirrored), and this is not because it looks better.

Apparently the "proper" right-facing image is patented and used by Guinness Brewery since late 19th century:

The government only registered "left-facing" images, with the harp's sound board on the right. While the Attorney General's office felt that right-facing images should also be registered, patent agents advised this might be interfere with Guinness Brewery's use of such harps in its logo since the 1870s.

2. fröccs

Literally it means "splatter" and yet we are mostly used to the word "spritz(er)".

The name of the drink makes us think that the origins are either German, or Austrian. However, there are also legends about it being Hungarian. Hard to tell if it's true, but nonetheless we do know who came up with the name used in Hungary nowadays: the poet Mihály Vörösmarty.

What's interesting though is that his friend, a famous Hungarian writer Gyula Krúdy, was a huge fan of these drinks, and depicted himself in Szindbád the boatman, a character from his novel, who used to sit in pubs with a glass of wine:

Besides a book and a glass, there is a cane of wine and a bottle of soda water, everything one needs to make a spritz(er).

By the way, what's one of the most popular spritzers in Hungary nowadays?

Right, the "Krúdy-fröccs", 1 part soda water to 9 parts wine, as Gyula Krúdy used to say that "10% raises a laugh".

3. ek number

Sometimes I realize that speaking in one (two, three, ...) languages means there are corners of the Internet and/or world you can't appreciate, in the first place because you can't understand them.

So while knowing both English and Russian is usually more than enough to find an answer to almost any question, I still miss the jewels like that:

"ek number," which loosely translates to "I rate this number one" — the "ek" itself means "one" in Hindi — is commonly used as an affirmative response to a joke. If you find something to be funny, you could always type "haha" or "hehe" in India, but you can also signal your enjoyment by responding "ek number."

4. Remy Labesque and chocolate chips

Chocolate chips have a water drop's shape because it's easier to make that way. It's harder to use though.

Remy Labesque, one of Tesla's designers, helped Dandelion Chocolate to invent a machine to make ideal chocolate chips:

The shape of a typical store-bought chocolate chip is an arbitrary result of the industrial manufacturing process used to make it. As you might expect, a drop of molten chocolate is deposited onto a flat surface and left to cool. Chocolate chip taste varies widely by brand, but the shape of the chips does not.

The shape of our chip is faceted: The edges of a Dandelion Chocolate chip taper to thin-as-we could-make-’em without compromising structure. This is because the thermal mass of a thin piece of chocolate melts more quickly on the palate. So when you put a Dandelion chip on your tongue, the thin, chiseled edges warm-to-melt nearly instantly.

1 lb of these chips costs 30$, not bad.

5. nuok mam

The chances are, the Vietnamese fish sauce came from Ancient Rome via the Silk Road, and now is the closest representation of Roman garum.

Vietnam’s nuoc mam can be described as a ‘living fossil’ or ‘living archaeological culinary finding’ that maintains the ancient Roman tradition and flavour,” Franchetti says. “Recent studies have shown that nuoc mam is today the closest existing sauce to the garum of an earlier age.

6. Young men can eat twice as much food as they need to feel ‘full’

I've always suspected it, but thanks to the University of Bath, there is the confirmation (tested by all-you-can-eat pizza study):

This study reveals that humans are capable of eating twice as much food as is needed to make us feel ‘full’, but that our bodies are well adapted to an excessive delivery of dietary nutrients at one huge meal.

Book of the week

From the “Phoenix book” by Gene Kim, Behr & George Spafford:

Unplanned work is what prevents you from doing it. Like matter and antimatter, in the presence of unplanned work, all planned work ignites with incandescent fury, incinerating everything around it. Like Phoenix.

This is a great book I occasionally re-read.

Despite being a day-to-day narrative about what seems to be a one manager's life at an office, it's way closer to the Lord of the Rings than to any coaching brochure.

The authors walk you through the making of a confident leader out of a desperate clerk, and manage to pack two years of my university education between the lines, from the intricacies of the Theory of Constraints to working with under-performers, in an action story full of unexpected turns, wacky senseis and a fair bit of fun.

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! 🍸