by Vadim Drobinin

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

01.03.2022 (read in browser)

  1. Intro

    Whatever is on my mind this week.

  2. Things I enjoyed reading

    Ten-ish articles I found worth reading.

  3. Things I didn't know last Tuesday

    Ten-ish facts I didn't know when I wrote the previous edition.

  4. Book of the week

    Some thoughts on the latest book I've read.

On heritage

I have lived my entire life with a stain of Russian heritage.

For years it was with pride.

For the last decade it was with anticipation of being able to refer to myself somehow else.

These days we have the power to change pretty much anything, from one’s legal name to one’s gender, and yet can’t give up a passport unless there is more than one.

The chances are, people never considered a possibility of being disgraced by one so much.

And while the language, the art, the scientists, the writers (well most of them) are worthy to be proud of, the actions of this government are a part of my heritage as well — and that easily dismisses everything else.

If I were to go back, as per the new laws this email might be considered treason and result in up to 20 years behind the bars — but in the meantime please support Ukraine however you can.

Things I enjoyed reading

1. I'm common as muck and spent £150 in a Michelin star restaurant to see if it was worth it by @Bozzers

Fine dining felt like a mystery to me for a long time, and yet the moment I tried my first Michelin-starred dish I knew I was hooked. Here is a rather recent but nonetheless very similar experience:

How many flowers had the chef tasted to know that the little pink one goes best on asparagus? How many tried and failed attempts had gone into deciding just how much reindeer moss goes well with artichoke? What countries had he visited to learn what goes best with the finger lime? Or, in forests filled with mushrooms of every conceivable type, how had the chef decided to choose hen of the woods for me to enjoy today, right here in Birmingham?

Suddenly, they were not tiny little plates of food for big prices. They were experiences, knowledge and expertise, presented in such a way that I could have flown if I wasn't anchored to the restaurant floor by a crisp table topped with stacks of cutlery.

And while the answer to many questions might be boiled down to a few (ridiculously expensive) books, the amount of effort that goes into every single dish is still massive. Unless it's the petite four. I never undersood why they get overlooked pretty much everywhere (looking at you, Gordon).

2. Inside Pornhub by Nathan Munn

A very interesting story about internals of PornHub, covering its early years and exponential growth:

I only learned about the adult industry through informal chats and secondhand conversation around the office. Competition in the porn world was cutthroat. A Manwin developer told me how, when they caught a competitor ripping off content from Pornhub to create a knockoff website, engineers placed a link to the offending website in a few pixels of the Pornhub homepage, where millions of people clicked daily. The resulting tsunami of web traffic swamped the pirate site and knocked it offline in minutes — the kiss of death.

Such a shame there are not that many companies people write long-reads about. Apple and Facebook, yes. Google, yes, albeit not that often. And that's pretty much it?

3. J. Kenji López-Alt Says You’re Cooking Just Fine by @hels

I grew up reading Kenji's researches for Cooks Illustrated - and as a preview of his upcoming book on cooking with a wok he talks a lot about his views of life and overall approach to cooking in this interview:

There’s something particular about a wok. It’s a pan that was never designed for one single specific use. Early cooking vessels were made of clay—they were made for drying grain, and then people realized, Oh, we can also sear things in this, and we can boil things. And then eventually they started being made of metal, so then, O.K., we can put this over high heat. The techniques that you use it for came after the tool, as opposed to it being a tool that was designed for one specific technique. It’s not going to sear a steak better than a cast-iron pan, it’s not going to necessarily braise your short ribs better than a Dutch oven, but it’s going to do all these other different things.

I am yet to find a decent wok capable of keeping my induction stovetop intact, but a good pan and a good knife are probably the only things a chef can't survive without.

4. How Ikea tricks you into buying more stuff by @zzcrockett

The chances are, I already ask myself this question every time I leave the store with a bunch of bags and remembering how I walked in a few hours ago "just to grab glasses". My personal answer is, the meatballs.

These pure pieces of joy.

And yet seems like there is more going on behind the curtains:

Inside, customers are led through a preordained, one-way path that winds through 50+ room settings. The average Ikea store is 300k sq. ft. — the equivalent of about 5 football fields — and their typical shopper ends up walking almost a mile.

Want a lamp? You’re going to have to walk past cookware, rugs, toilet brushes, and shoehorns to get there.

Next time I will bring a map with me.

5. Are smartphones serving as adult pacifiers? by Marlene Cimons

The modern society relies a lot on instant access to both the Internet and convenience of a personal phone, and there is more than one explanation of it.

“Just holding it made me feel good,” says Melumad, assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, who studies the relationship between people and their phones. “It gave me a sense of ease or calm. It was similar to children who seek out their pacifiers when they are stressed. For many of us, our phone represents an attachment object, much as a security blanket or teddy bear does for a child.”

I tried leaving the phone in a different room a few times before going to sleep, and while the world didn't shutter I didn't feel at easy either, and didn't repeat the experiment ever again.

6. Why Ceramic Wine Cups are Making a Comeback by Holly Garrad-Cole

Only a few drinks I've ordered over the last year were served in ceramic cups, and in my mind it was mostly to make the garnish more noticeable. However there are also people doing it to change the texture and tactile experience:

Matt Whiley, a bar owner in Sydney who now serves cocktails out of ceramics, plays on the unique sensorial aspects of clay cups, like colour and temperature, to surprise his guests: "You can change a person's perception of what something tastes like based on the colour of the ceramics," he told Good Food. "You can also change the depth of the drinking experience and the temperature as well. If you put ice in a ceramic in a freezer it stays cold for a long time."

I've also tried drinking wine out of goblets, and that wasn't too bad. A decent crystal wine glass is still my cup of tea though.

7. On the Origin of the iPhone by @daringfireball

A really curious read on the origins of the iPhone:

EARLY 2004: Apple commits to collaborating with Motorola, and eventually Cingular, for what will become the ill-fated Rokr, a phone designed and developed by Motorola with support for music from the iTunes Store. (But not over-the-air downloads or purchases!) Jobs’s thinking at the time was that they didn’t want to make a phone themselves because he didn’t think Apple could do it their way, building exactly the phone they themselves wanted to build, because of the complete control exerted by the carriers over every detail related to handsets

I didn't know (although suspected) that there were way more steps in its history before the official announcement and related engineering work. Wonder what's in the making these days?

8. The Punk Strategy Guide to the Logical Thinking Process by tasshin

This is a slightly different approach to organising thinking process around a problem (which could be pretty much anything, from a project to a question):

I have a special term for a specific kind of work project: headaches. These projects have multiple steps, usually require the input and participation of several people, and tend to take place over weeks or months. They might also have several unknown variables. Often, these projects aren’t particularly hard, they’re just— stressful. The term “headache” feels like an apt description for this kind of complicated project.

The article also covers a bunch of tools that might aid the problem solving. I usually resort to a pen and a paper, albeit pretty much forgot how to write by hand, although next time might actually pick something up from the list.

9. APIs as ladders by @sebasbensu

Coding APIs is easier than designing them, and that applies both to external APIs meant to be consumed by external developers and to the internal APIs meant to be used by teammates in a project. This post covers the thinking behind the planning process quite well:

Developers don't want to learn your API, they want to solve a problem and move on. As such, you should try to minimize the amount of learning they have to do. In a simple domain, you can have an ideal ladder with only one step. Once developers learn that step, the API helps them solve every problem in its domain. The worst ladder makes them learn a lot upfront but then helps them solve comparatively little.

I like the ladder metaphor a lot as it gives the appropriate scale between the problems an API is meant to solve and the effort required to achieve the results.

10. Do Not Change Your Job by @candosten

While the title might be a bit straightforward, the main idea is that changing the job requires a bit more than a hot market:

If you’re leaving for more money or safety, I will never argue. If you’re leaving for a different type of experience (e.g., remote work vs. in-office, big co vs. start-up) or for different company culture, I won’t argue at all. If the environment is not toxic or not draining your energy and you’re still learning, then why leave the company? If you’re leaving your company because the market is hot right now and your company can’t give you a raise that might not even change your life, then maybe you should question again. Don’t get caught in the ~great resignation~ current job-changing wave.

At the same time, to me the current situation on the market easily covers everything else: as companies are desperate for developers, the compensation packages are increasing and gradually include way more than mere health insurances (I got approached by folks willing to provide a car and cover rent recently, something I thought was available only to bankers).

Things I didn't know last Tuesday

1. Whopper Sacrifice

A decade ago Burger King ran a campaign to give a free whopper to anyone who deleted 10 friends on Facebook.

CP&B, after all, was the creator of the "Whopper Sacrifice" phenomenon, a Burger King ad campaign on Facebook that promised a coupon for a free hamburger if participants deleted 10 people from their friends lists on the social network. It was a wild success: the Facebook application was installed nearly 60,000 times in a matter of days, nearly 20,000 Whopper coupons were sent out, and well over 200,000 Facebook friends were deleted.

Facebook banned the program a week later as Burger King was sending direct messages to people letting them know that they'd been dropped for a sandwich.

2. The only flag of the world that is shredded by design

Most flags get ripped by strong winds of they hang outside for too long, but this one is actually designed like that:

This flag is not only truly original, but as well one of the oldest in the world. It is composed of a green strip and eight red strips, all of them detached from each other.

Strips represent victories:

3. The difference between East Coast and West Coast butter

Some time ago I was surprised by the difference between American and European butter, but apparently even within the States there is more divide:

Turns out, the East Coast-style butter, or “Elgin,” is named for a once-prominent dairy farm in Elgin, Illinois. Once the West Coast caught up with the Midwest’s dairy production in the 1960s, the Elgin-style butter printers (or molds used to shape butter) were no longer available. West Coast dairies began using new butter printers (can we stop to appreciate butter printers for a second?) which produced shorter, chubbier sticks.

Can't imagine how all those recipe makers across the pond deal with it.

4. Kissing in the Middle Ages

This partially explains the odd kissing rituals in books about Medieval times:

In Latin, the general term for a kiss was literally “little mouth” (osculum), positioning the kiss as a seal, an externalization of one’s spoken vows or intentions. It was about exchange and union. In the feudal era, one foundational use of the kiss was to formalize a transaction. At a standard homage or commendation ceremony, in which lords and vassals pledged mutual loyalty, the kiss was the reification of the oath, performed for all the witnesses of the ceremony.

I wonder how the concept of kiss being a seal translates into the modern world though.

5. The purpose of check-in before flying

I always took redundant check-ins as some leftover from pre-digital times, and that was wrong:

At check in, in the old days, you presented your ticket to the airline. The airline detached ("clipped") the flight coupon from the ticket and kept the flight coupon. In exchange, you got a boarding pass. At the end of the month, the airline collected all the paper flight coupons and figured out who issued each coupon based on their serial numbers. It presented the coupons back to their original issuers and in exchange gets the financial value of those coupons. Since this happens only once per month, it's a lot easier than money moving about in each ticket transaction.

Even now the system works the same way, it's just the paper flight coupons were replaced by the digital ones.

6. Jackalopes

A hilarious (and not real) animal from the past:

The jackalope is an oddball even among oddballs. Despite the animal’s legendary moniker—a portmanteau of jackrabbit and antelope — the jackalope is often made from the head of a cottontail rather than a jackrabbit, and mounts are rarely fabricated using the horns of a pronghorn antelope, the wider availability of deer antlers making them the preferred choice. To complicate matters, the jackrabbit (genus Lepus) is not a rabbit but rather a hare, while the pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) is not an antelope but instead an artiodactyl ungulate indigenous to North America — the sole survivor of a dozen fantastic Antilocaprid species, which, before the sweeping wave of Pleistocene extinctions broke over them, roamed the territory now inhabited by jackalopes.

If you were to check out the article linked above, they even show old postcards with jackalopes!

7. Music Engraver

Here is an unexpected occupation:

In fact, “engravers” are referred to as such because one of the most popular ways to make sheet music was to etch every note into a metal plate, which was then used for printing many copies. As the tools evolved — from metal plates, to hand copying, to lithography, to Notasets, to musical typewriters, to computer software — so too did the ways in which music is written, and every music publisher has their own special set of rules to follow.

So those folks making sure the sheet music is correctly written and is as easy to read and play as possible are different from actual musicians, at least in most cases.

8. Tithingman

I never felt asleep in a church, for I haven't been to one that much, but Puritans sleeping there were poked with a long wooden stick by a dedicated person:

Many churches employed a more proactive approach to combatting sleeping parishioners: the Tithingman. This fellow was hired to oversee the congregation. Perched on a balcony or strolling the aisles, he was armed with a long stick. One end had a hard knob or point, the other a bit of fur. When he caught men nodding off, he gave them a wrap on the head. Women who dozed got a tickle with the fur.

That must be one hell of a vocation.

9. Fastelavn

This is the week known for pancakes but seems like in some countries it also means trick-or-treating:

A common theme of Fastelavn in all the countries currently involves children dressing up in costumes, walking door to door while they sing and gathering treats for the Fastelavn feast, a form of trick-or-treat.

At least they don't burn hay dolls on sticks...

10. Czernina

An alternative to the classic borscht for those who don't like the colour or its ingredients:

Czernina ([...] sometimes also czarnina or czarna polewka --- black soup, or even "gray borscht", barszcz szary) is a Polish soup made of duck blood and clear poultry broth. Sometimes known as "duck soup", yet hen, rabbit or pig blood can also be used.

Originally the soup was surved to men who got rejected when asking for a permission to wed their partners, although I am not really sure if that really helped with the pain.

Book of the week

We talk and write about chefs a lot, as if they were the reason restaurants operate every day.

That’s only partly true: in addition to being relatively public figures, chefs are also often managers, but that doesn’t necessarily imply that they overlook interactions with guests.

In most cases they belong to the kitchen, and very rarely leave it.

Most of visitors interact purely with waiters, someliers, and bartenders, the so-called Front of the House.

And these are the people who create more than a half of experience. The food obviously matters, but what’s the point if guests leave before even ordering it? Jeff Benjamin's Front of the House covers this in way more details:

We vigorously train our staff to uphold a set of common service guidelines in addition to the specifics unique to each place. Always greet guests with a smile on their way in and wish them well on their way out. Always sincerely thank a guest for joining us—even those who may have voiced some concerns. Be polished and well-spoken. Be friendly but unobtrusive. Never say “no” without offering an alternative. The list goes on, but the main point is that no server should simply memorize these guidelines and regurgitate them robotically. Natural-born hospitality pros infuse them with their own personality and sincere desire to provide joy.
We have to give each server latitude if we expect their personality to shine. Because they do wear many hats, they need the confidence to determine which one is required at any given moment and to try it on for size.

There is obviously more to it, from changes made once people started to take pictures of their plates (and started to spend more time at the table) to dealing with difference between restaurants (fast-pacing environment calls for a different set of skills than a relaxed trattoria).

The book is pretty fun too: most examples and rules feel like anecdotes, and yet at the same time bring memories of certain moments of visiting cafes and restaurants in the past.

Even though the book is meant for chefs and hospitality industry, I'd probably easily suggest it for a relaxed weekend read.

It'd probably also affect the way you tip.

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! 🍸