by Vadim Drobinin

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

25.08.2020 (read in browser)

Belongings versus posessions

We have been moving home for the past week.

When I was moving from my hometown to Moscow, almost a decade ago, I had only a small bag with some clothes and a laptop.

When I was moving from Moscow to St. Petersburg, I got a bigger bag and left another two behind to gradially move them as well over the next half a year.

When I was moving from St. Petersburg back to Moscow, I doubled the number of bags and their size. It was mostly cookware though.

By the time we have moved from Moscow to London all our belongings fit into two pieces of luggage, even though we had 20 kg more than expected.

Last week we packed 40 boxes, most of which were either bottles from our @thestirredart or carefully wrapped glassware.

And that made me think about possessions versus belongins.

There are not that many things I would like to own, and yet many of those I want to posess, albeit temporarily. Folks around already rent flats, cars, mobile phones, cameras, laptops and jackets. Why not to push forward and start paying daily for pots or furniture?

Imagine being able to bump a tier on a pot's subscription and use a more professional model for a few days, then cancel and go back to the previous one?

Or being able to move without any luggage and just restore all subscriptions?

Now on to making it into a startup.

Things I enjoyed reading

1. Why is it ok to divide by 0.0? by @wordsandbuttons

Floating points, division by zero, and long numbers were (and most likely are) the most scary parts of my interaction with computer science, and yet this is a beautiful way to explain things in a nutshell:

Anyway, just like 3e8 represents a range of numbers, a 0 represents not a single number but every number that is so small you don't have enough digits to write down how small it is.

2. The demise of the second-hand bookshop by Alexander Larman

I am an often guest in second-hand bookshops. Not because I can not afford books I usually pick there but because I am not aware of their existence.

However, I am usually looking for something fairly specific, whether it is a book about cocktails' first appearance in 1940s movies, or a travel guide through the world via cocktail recipes, or the first edition of Heston Bluementhal's search for perfection.

Places such as Bath, Oxford, Cambridge and Stratford-upon-Avon, which once used to offer rich pickings in their hugely diverting bookshops, have now seen most of them disappear entirely, driven away by high rents, a lack of demand and a sense that, in 2020, the second-hand bookshop is somehow inessential.

3. Applying tech frameworks to biotech: key differences by @celinehalioua

Working in biotech (or in medtech for that matter) is fairly different from working in a traditional tech company. It's more than three months of being in the former for me, and that is exciting yet very unusual.

In biotech, the core team is more experienced. They will likely have developed drugs in Big Pharma, have a family, and require a larger salary & some sense of security if they are to join a startup. Senior talent is necessary as many parts of drug development can’t be learned from a book - it is closer to an apprenticeship model.

4. Remembering what you've read by @zainrzv

I tend to read a lot but it's the retaining of knowledge which confuses me. In the age of the Internet there are less and less reasons to compete with computers once it comes to retrieving answers to questions from the Internet (if only someone would create a platform for sharing such knowledge!).

Interestingly enough, there are certain system which might help to do it better without googling every single fact.

If you want to be able to casually browse through your notes, looking for ideas to spark your imagination, Zettelkasten will most likely have superior results since the ideas are already summarized right there for you. Zettelkasten makes it easy to compose essays and put together speeches, but that’s because you’ve already done the hard work of writing down your thoughts ahead of time.

5. The Hard Problem of Breakfast by Jonathan Bines

Explaining why and how we have qualia or phenomenal experience is called the Hard problem of consciousness.

For those not familiar with it I can strongly recommend this article from a Jimmy Kimmel's writer for a well-known scientific magazine:

Yet there remains one problem that has proven frustratingly resistant to our efforts at resolution: What is often referred to as The Hard Problem of Breakfast.

The stubborn fact remains that, no matter how deeply we probe into the nature of bacon, eggs, oatmeal, and avocado toast—to say nothing of shakshuka, grits, bear claws, or dim sum—or the interactions between these fundamental building blocks and, say, orange juice or coffee and the morning paper, we simply have no convincing theory to explain how such disparate, seemingly inert components give rise to the phenomenon we subjectively experience as “breakfast.”

6. Never Run ‘python’ In Your Downloads Folder by @glyph

Sometimes even very common actions might lead to very unexpected results.

System administrators and developers are high-value targets in the world of cybercrime. If you hack a user, you get that user’s data; but if you hack an admin or a dev, and you do it right, you could get access to thousands of users whose systems are under the administrator’s control or even millions of users who use the developers’ software.

7. The Mad Cheese Scientists Fighting to Save the Dairy Industry by Clint Rainey

A story akin James Bond's adventures but about Taco Bell, "Illuminati of cheese", and food science.

That Taco Bell is developing its cheesiest products ever in the midst of an historic dairy oversupply is no accident. There exists a little-known, government-sponsored marketing group called Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), whose job it is to squeeze as much milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt as it can into food sold both at home and abroad.

8. The Baumans, Sellers of Really, Really Rare Books by Geraldine Fabrikant

For those unsatisfied with the selection at second-hand bookshops, there is a special kind of a bookshop. One of a kind.

One visitor spent $400,000 on “The Great Gatsby” and McKenney and Halls’ “History of the Indian Tribes of North America” in a single visit. Another, a quiet man in shorts, flip-flops and a T-shirt spent $15,000 on a first edition of “Huckleberry Finn” and then several weeks later returned to pick out a first edition of “The Catcher in the Rye” for $17,000.

And yet I still do hope to find someone's 150 years old notebook with hand-written recipes for a fraction of these costs.

9. Don't design for mobile by @mattanddesign

When designing screens we take into account dimensions and accessibility, but what about thinking broader?

Even the type of screen can be an issue. Capacitive touchscreens used on modern smart phones have far greater accuracy than other types of touchscreen technologies—I'm sure you've all struggled with the screens on planes and ATMs before.

Apparently device sensors and hardware are (or should be) as important for designers as the screen's resolution and its width.

10. I tried to make crystal gravy by Dennis Lee

My body’s immediate reaction was to attempt to eject the contents of my mouth onto the floor. But only through sheer stupidity was I able to finish a bite and swallow it. Maybe I do have a subconscious death wish.

No way sherlock. Who would think that making a gravy out of xanathan gum and beef flavouring doesn't taste well? At least now we know that it doesn't look good either.

11. Stealing local files using Safari Web Share API by @h0wlu

A beautiful disclosure report about a vulnerability in Web Share API: from stealing files via emails to accessing them in Safari.

In case such a link is passed to the navigator.share function an actual file from the user file system is included in the shared message which leads to local file disclosure when a user is sharing it unknowingly. The problem is not very serious as user interaction is required, however it is quite easy to make the shared file invisible to the user. The closest comparison that comes to mind is clickjacking as we try to convince the unsuspecting user to perform some action.

Things I didn't know last Tuesday

1. different tasting notes on 10k ft vs 30k ft

The gin British Airways gives away on their planes is on sale and they have different tasting notes for 10 000 ft vs 30 000 ft.

I knew that tomato juice with salt and pepper is tremendously popular for the same reason: at the altidute our taste buds behave differently. But using it to change the flavour of gin -- wow.

Tasting Notes at 30,000 ft:

A naturally balanced sweet and spiced gin with a beautiful note of juniper and sweet citrus from the lemon myrtle paired alongside the heather and rose petal.

2. nundinae

Out of all the facts I've learned from this deep dive into the basic structure of food production in the pre-modern world (particularly farming grain to make bread), this one has piqued my interest in particular:

[about Roman markets on the 9th day of every month]

the nundinae were minor festivals, days of rest and merrymaking, but they were also the days when the rural markets would be open – the rest-day from agricultural labor enabled farmers to head into local towns to buy or sell whatever they needed (interestingly, at Rome, the nundinae were dies nefasti – state business couldn’t generally be conducted on them – so poor farmers hoping to use their day off to participate politically were out of luck).

3. False vacuum

From the most wacky scientific facts:

The possibility that we are living in a false vacuum has never been a cheering one to contemplate. Vacuum decay is the ultimate ecological catastrophe; in the new vacuum there are new constants of nature; after vacuum decay, not only is life as we know it impossible, so is chemistry as we know it. However, one could always draw stoic comfort from the possibility that perhaps in the course of time the new vacuum would sustain, if not life as we know it, at least some structures capable of knowing joy. This possibility has now been eliminated.

For those keen on reading through something less scientific, there is Greg Egan's "Schild's Ladder" where the concept is used as a core for the plot.

4. The mass-energy-information equivalence principle

Here we formulate a new principle of mass-energy-information equivalence proposing that a bit of information is not just physical, as already demonstrated, but it has a finite and quantifiable mass while it stores information.

What does it say for us, mere mortals?

A full hard drive weights more than an empty one.

If your backpack is too heavy for a plane, just move everything from drives to the cloud.

5. Danakil Depression

The Danakil Depression is the northern part of the Afar Triangle or Afar Depression in Ethiopia, a geological depression that has resulted from the divergence of three tectonic plates in the Horn of Africa.

6. Pine nuts are picked from baloons

I've never seen how pine nuts are picked and seems like it's a bit more complicated than I thought:

Traditionally, the pickers scaled trees with the help of spikes attached to their shoes, and knocked pinecones from overhead branches using a long pole fitted with a hook. If the branches broke, workers could fall. Over the last two years, more workers have switched to using a hydrogen or helium balloon secured with a rope, which is considered a safer approach [...]

7. Kotatsu

If you are looking for a cozy, warm, and convenient mix of a table and a sofa for a living room, here is the Japanese wisdom:

A kotatsu (Japanese: 炬燵) is a low, wooden table frame covered by a futon, or heavy blanket, upon which a table top sits. Underneath is a heat source, formerly a charcoal brazier but now electric, often built into the table itself.

8. Gianduja

Nutella is essentially an attempt to reduce the cost of chocolate:

In 1806, Napoleon’s attempts to freeze out British trade from Italy hit the cost of chocolate. Chocolatiers in Turin added chopped hazelnuts to the mix to stretch their supplies – the result was dubbed gianduja.

9. A restaurant that accepts reservations only by post

How popular could be a restaurant? That popular:

Everyone from Martha Stewart to Food & Wine and the New York Times has talked up her cooking. When reservations for the next year opened last April 1, the 40-seat spot got slammed with 10,000 phone calls, and the voice-mail quit taking new messages after 30 minutes.

So here comes the good old post and drawing reservations from a pot.

10. thermal breadbox

In certain Spanish cities one could order a free "thermal breadbox" to hang on the house, and bakers will deliver fresh bread and pastries in the morning.

11. Kurt Russell destroyed a priceless 145-year-old guitar

On the set of "The Hateful Eight" Kurt Russel decided to break a guitar, which was apparently very old and very precious:

"What was supposed to happen was we were supposed to go up to that point, cut, and trade guitars and smash the double,” according to Ulano, who said six doubles were made of the Martin guitar. “Well, somehow that didn’t get communicated to Kurt, so when you see that happen on the frame, Jennifer’s reaction is genuine.”

Book of the week

Upon walking through Portobello Road's charity shops this weekend, I couldn't resist picking a book by Julian Mash called "Portobello Road: Lives of a Neighbourhood":

I agree with Iain Sinclair's assertion that 'walking is the best way to explore and exploit the city', as each section of the road reveals its own distinct character, its own sights, sounds, smells and atmosphere – from the rough and ready bric-a-brac as its northern end around Golborne road to the more expensive antiques on offer the closer you get to Notting Hill Gate.

I used to live in a stone's throw from the Portobello road. It had its own pros and cons, obviously. From ridiculously cheap fruits and vegetables on Friday mornings, to well-hidden charity shops with obscure glassware. From smelly food stalls to a Turkish coffee on sand. From fancy high-street shops to tiny mews full of blooming roses. From mediocre supermarkets to secret beer gardens.

My swimming pool was just across the block, and we had a few favourite places in the area to fix our coffeine needs or grab a quick bread roll on the go.

We'd spend some mornings by lazily strolling through the All Saints road (as we'd do in Vilnius, or Hastings, or almost any other city), or pass by in the evening to taste some wine and have a chitchat with a somelier.

It used to be full of tourists and wacky strangers though, and the worst was the Carnival. Once a year all Victorian houses would be boarded by wooden pellets, shops would close the blindings and put a layer of wood above, and groups of young and fearless would paint the walls within minutes. And then, once the Carnival starts, for three days and nights the music doesn't let you sleep, the crowds do not let you walk, and the amount of rubbish can't be described.

So yes, even walking the Portobello road depends heavily on what the city wants you to either explore, or exploit. Pretty sure we have managed to do both over that time.

Thank you and see you in a week!

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Cheers! 🍸