by Vadim Drobinin

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

11.08.2020 (read in browser)

When I was moving to the UK three years ago I was told that the weather on the island is gloomy, misty, and wet.

I was looking forward to it.

Half a year prior to the relocation I have rejected an offer in Thailand, and before that in Emirates and Greece. Mostly because of the heat.

Being raised in the North, with grandparents living above the Arctic Circle, I was never too fond of warm salty sea water and would trade it for a chlorinated but cold swimming pool without a second thought.

And yet here we are, grilling at 35ºC for almost a week now.

Sorry if this week's selection of articles feels biased, because it is indeed.

Things I enjoyed reading

1. Oatly: The New Coke by @nateliason

A very intricate summary on the tricks companies back in the 60s used to play with people's minds: from pretending that snacking on sugar during the day helps you not to overeat later to promoting cigarettes as a parfume replacement. Interestingly enough, lots of these tricks fit into three simple rules, and seems like Oatly, the oat milk brand, is playing strictly by the book:

Putting 12oz of Oatly into your latte and adjusting for the higher GI of maltose means adding almost a tablespoon of table sugar to your drink. Put a tablespoon of sugar next to your coffee next time you have a chance and seriously consider if that’s a decision that’s “made for humans.”

There are also quite a few great links to further sources, so make sure to check it out.

2. How long does a freezer stay frozen when the power goes out

We had a power cut recently, and not within the apartment but in the whole neightbourhood. Luckily it was almost at midnight, so the candles to the rescue, and the romantic evening becomes even more romantic.

However, right at the moment of the cut I was making a plum clafoutis, and the need to open the fridge and the freezer raised a few quesions, most notably how much time do we have left until everything goes bad? At least now I know.

Given that this upright freezer was less than half full for my tests with food in it, I would say, for a freezer of this size, completely packed, you would probably have twice as long before running into problems with melting when the power goes out, so about 36 hours. This assuming it's in a room at 19° C (a cool basement). If it were in a hot garage at 30° C, the food would thaw in about 3/4 of the time.

And while the power is out, for each time the door is opened for five seconds, subtract 7 minutes.

3. App Attest: protecting apps from Jailbreak tweaks by @rockbruno_

Some really welcome news for the community:

As (possibly) a response to jailbreaking become popular again in recent times, Apple has released their own solution to this problem. In iOS 14, the new App Attest APIs provide you a secure way to sign server requests to prove to your server that they came from an uncompromised version of your app.

However, the question is still out there: how good that is and does it actually help against piracy, cheating, and API abuse?

4. How a Cheese Goes Extinct by @rubytandoh

An honestly terrifying story about the issue the cheese industry faces (and also the insights into the world of unusual names and flavours).

The small amount of cheese that was permitted to be made was strictly regulated, with only a small roster of cheeses—mostly hard cow’s-milk cheeses similar to Cheddar—approved for production. Soft and blue cheeses, which tended to contain higher moisture levels than those permitted in ration cheese, and which were less durable, didn’t make the cut. Within two decades, the number of farmhouse cheesemakers had plummeted from more than a thousand to less than two hundred.

5. Dear Staging: We’re Done by @talia_nassi

With feature flags, I can safely test in production without fear of breaking something or negatively affecting the customer experience. They allow me to target specific users, which means I can choose exactly who sees the changes I make to the feature. All other users must wait for me to give the green light before they can see the new feature.

So much that.

There are numerous issues with developers' environments, and the lack of clear distinction between Staging and Production is one of them. To be fair, as a mobile developer, I very rarely test something on staging (unless it's set that way by default), and yet I very often verify against production.

6. Great Retsina, an Oxymoron No More by @EricAsimov

Adding pine resin to wine?... Right, here we go.

The result was a refreshing, invigorating wine, with a bright pungency that seems ready-made for Greek cooking in all its garlicky, herbal glory. Though retsina is primarily a white wine (and occasionally a rosé), it goes beautifully with roasted lamb, its punchy flavors refusing to knuckle under to the savory meat. I have also found retsina to be a wonderful partner for spicy Indian food.

I had an unusual and very pleasant encounter with British wines over the last weeks, and despite being fairly afraid of the unconventional origin, I enjoy them a lot nowadays. Can't wait to find a bottle of retsina now.

7. Brown M&Ms, or Why No One's Reading the Manual

People make mistakes, and quite often purely because they miss the documentation. However, the story used to illustrate it, is hilarious in way more dimensions:

So, a lucky someone at each venue was given the task of plucking the brown M&Ms away from their yellow, green, and orange counterparts. Keep in mind, this was in the 1980s, so there were actually two shades of brown M&Ms at the time, the standard brown and tan, which was eventually eliminated to make way for blue.

If any brown M&Ms were found backstage, the band could cancel the entire concert at the full expense of the promoter.

8. The Soviet web: the tale of how the USSR almost invented the internet by Justin Reynolds

Now I wonder how different would the world be, if in 1970s the Soviets pulled the working Internet prototype?

By 1970 Glushkov’s plan was ready to go before the Politburo for approval, which, with the promised backing of General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and Premier Aleksei Kosygin, it seemed destined to secure. But it was not to be. Entering Stalin’s former office in the Kremlin to formally present his proposal, Glushkov noticed that Brezhnev and Kosygin’s chairs were empty. Their absence — ostensibly to attend state functions elsewhere — emboldened Finance Minister Vasily Garbuzov to force through a counterproposal that ripped the heart out of the plan.

9. Why did I wake up before my alarm clock went off? by Joe Armstrong

A couple of days ago I lay in bed thinking “the alarm is just about to go off” and then a second later it did go off and I thought “how come I woke up just before the alarm went off?” In the past I'd thought to myself “I've got a super-accurate timer in my head that wakes me up ...” but then a new thought hit me:
My brain is a distributed computer. When the alarm goes off various parts of my brain which are in deep-sleep mode need waking up - what I'm observing is a timing error in my brain.

An attempt to find a neurophysiological bug in a human code. No way to prove if it's correct or not, at least to me, but the point is very interesting.

Things I didn't know last Tuesday

1. pea soup fog

Obviously I knew that London was foggy. But movies about the times not yet forgotten were not doing its justice. The black and white ones were, well, black and white. The rest was just normal. Apparently the fog was very thick and often yellowish, hence the name after a popular dish:

An 1871 New York Times article refers to "London, particularly, where the population are periodically submerged in a fog of the consistency of pea soup". The fogs caused large numbers of deaths from respiratory problems.

Things got better only recently, after the Clean Air Act 1956.

2. chippy broon sauce

Once a foreigner understands the difference between a Chip butty and a Crisp butty, the doors of the most exclusive private members' clubs will never be closed. Not so many are aware of the next step on the sacred ladder of understanding the Brits: the chippy broon sauce, served over Chip butties in Scotland.

The recipe is a mistery, and every chippy mixes their own. However now I know the secret:

Just dilute down some yourself. Add vinegar to brown sauce until you like the consistency.

Still lots of questions though: which Brown sauce? Would HP Brown sauce work? What about the vinegar? Is it a cider vinegar or something else? Why some folks replace vinegar with water? Please let me know if you have any clue.

3. "–ise or –ize?"

An interesting take on the suggestion that the use of a z in words like compromize is either wrong, or American (I always erred on the side of the latter; apparently that is not the case).

After the Second World War the ‘s’ alternative is more frequently offered as a possibility and some house style manuals (though not Oxford’s) indicate a preference for ‘s’ — not because of any suggestion that ‘z’ is wrong, mark you, but because ‘s’ had come to be tolerated and it avoided having to remember which usage is which.

4. BJ Fogg’s Behaviour Model

I might be late to the party, but behaviour models are a novelty to me:

It explains which three buttons you need to push to be able to persuade someone into doing something. Or as BJ Fogg explains it himself three elements that have to be present at the same time to change behaviour: motivation, ability, and trigger.

5. tiffin

In the British Raj, tiffin was used to denote the British custom of afternoon tea that had been supplanted by the Indian practice of having a light meal at that hour.

It is derived from "tiffing", an English colloquial term meaning to take a little drink. By 1867 it had become naturalised among Anglo-Indians in northern British India to mean luncheon.

I stumbled upon that while researching Reddit's very own /r/RateMyTea. Apparently people are very picky about their cuppas.

6. Urban heat island

Here in the UK the most of heat records are happening around Heathrow and I never knew why (most likely not because of the heat from airplanes). Here is another explanation:

The temperature difference between urban areas and the surrounding suburban or rural areas can be as much as 5 °C (9.0 °F). Nearly 40 percent of that increase is due to the prevalence of dark roofs, with the remainder coming from dark-colored pavement and the declining presence of vegetation.

7. Beans Wars

If you ever find a chest full of baked beans from 90s under your floor, this is why.

Since then, the price has been cut twice more and rationing - first at five tins, then at four - has been introduced.

Yesterday, Tesco reduced the price of its Value brand to just 3p, making a loss on every can in an attempt to carve out a larger part of the pounds 250m a year market.

25 years ago local chains started what is now dubbed as "Beans Wars": price reductions aimed at winning the market, which in the end brough the price down to 3p per jar of baked beans.

The only company which didn't do that was Heinz holding at 33p (and people were still buying it!).

8. How We Got the Favicon

Apparently the favicon snuck its way into Internet Explorer 5 and went on to become one of the more defining browser features ever since.

Shyam chose the .ico format because it was the standard Windows format for icons, and was used extensively by the Windows operating system. And since browsers were, at the time, developed in what were essentially vacuums, that made some kind of sense. So did the subsequent choice of having developers drop the icon in a servers root folder, since this was typically an easy task on Windows web servers.

9. Pie Barm

Watch after my hands:

  1. We ferment a liquid (beer, wine, or stock)

  2. We take the foam from the top of the liquid (this is called barm)

  3. We use this foam to leaven a bread roll, and then put something inside it (now this is called a barm cake)

And if we do all of that in Wigan, Greater Manchester, England, we most likely would put a pie as a filling (they also host the World Pie Eating Championship, so no surprise). And here it is, the pie barm:

In Wigan, a whole savoury pie is served in a barm cake, known locally as a "Wigan Kebab".

The image by https://random-times.com/2020/04/24/pie-barm-an-unconventional-traditional-sandwich-from-wigan-england/

10. Wrinkly fingers are the rain threads

Apparently our fingers are wrinkling in a bath because the wrinkles act as rain threads and used to help our ancestors to have a better grip under rains (think rain threads on car tyres).

People often assume that wrinkling is the result of water passing into the outer layer of the skin and making it swell up.

But researchers have known since the 1930s that the effect does not occur when there is nerve damage in the fingers. This points to the change being an involuntary reaction by the body's autonomic nervous system — the system that also controls breathing, heart rate and perspiration. In fact, the distinctive wrinkling is caused by blood vessels constricting below the skin.

11. Only the British think of marmelade differently

Only in English does marmalade connote a citrus-based preserve containing peel. In Greek (marmelada), French (marmalade), and Italian (marmellata), the word just means “jam,” with the fruit added afterward to distinguish. Thus marmellata di arance is orange jam: sweet, pulpy.

Only marmellata di arance amare is what the English think of as marmalade.

And the same is in Russian actually. I'd usually assume that Russian мармелад is also jellified, so it's possible to slice it into pieces, dunk into icing sugar and eat with your hands.

Book of the week

From Paul Moody & Robin Turner's book "The Search for the Perfect Pub":

With booze as the muse you'll always come out more in tune with the universe than when you went in. In a society seemingly hell-bent on making us anxious, depressed, nervous or stressed-out, pubs are mini-republics of hope; independent states of mind where we feel at our most relaxed, charming and witty (usually before stumbling home via the kebab shop).

I am not a fan of beer; neither do I tend to drink cocktails or wine at pubs. However, this book was a very welcome sneakpeek into the why's not the how's of British love for a flat warm pint.

Inspired by Orwell's search for the perfect pub, the authors embark on a journey for a perfect-ish pub and on the way there meet numerous characters from all paths of life.

What's most important though is the idea – the booze as the medium for a social interaction.

Thank you and see you in a week!

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Cheers! 🍸