by Vadim Drobinin

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

08.03.2022 (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 Spring

I am not fully back to cooking endeavours yet, but in the meantime our pottery attempts got glazed and first, they are a great vessel for espresso. But also I didn't realise how much they would shrink in the oven.

We will probably be back for more workshops eventually, but that's not the story for today.

For many years I was awaiting March with anticipation.

Being the first month of spring, it always brought some feeling of refreshment, whether it was by getting rid of all the garbage collected over winter, or by hiding warm clothes in the back of a drawer.

It was also an exciting time of making plans for summer, and recently a less exciting time of stocking up on antihistamine pills to survive through the hayfever season.

This year it is quite different, and yet I am just thinking that history doesn't like dictators.

Especially in March.

Things I enjoyed reading

1. How a Book Is Made by @Liz_A_Harris

Great visual storytelling following the process of book-making, from a single digital file to hundreds of freshly printed books:

Most covers are printed using black, cyan, magenta and yellow ink, but two additional colors were used to print this one: Day-Glo green and a special blue. The machine above is loaded with 8,000 sheets of paper at a time, which are then fed through the press. Each section of the machine contains a separate tank of ink, one for each color.

Can't imagine the amount of effort it'd take a few centuries ago.

2. The Medieval Influencer Who Convinced the World to Drink Tea—Not Eat It by @Dong_Muda

An interesting story about a person who stopped folks from cooking tea leaves in pots with rice:

Lu Yu, in fact, adored tea—he’d go on to become the “tea god” and the world’s greatest tea influencer. But the tea he loved—brewed only from powdered tea leaves, without any other flavoring—was, in the grand sweep of human history, a recent invention. People in Asia, where tea trees are native, ate tea leaves for centuries, perhaps even millennia, before ever thinking to drink it. And it is Lu Yu who is chiefly responsible for making tea drinking the norm for most people around the world.

At least there are still some recipes involving tea leaves even now. Who could decline a pot of a caffeinated stew?!

3. The quest to create quality chocolate for a country obsessed with Cadbury by @MariaAjitThomas

I didn't know that Cadbury is so popular in India but apparently it's a big issue for artisanal chocolate companies, as they need to re-educate people's palates.

The ingredients list of a Cadbury Dairy Milk bar begins with sugar, suggesting that it’s the largest component, followed by milk solids (22%); it also features two kinds of chemical emuslifiers and artificial flavourings. In comparison, Mason & Co’s bars use whole cacao beans and cane sugar, and that’s pretty much it, barring other flavourings such as organic peanut butter or peppermint. This is why its chocolate is priced at Rs295 a bar, Mason says.

To me most of those bean-to-bar chocolates are essentially a different product. They're very hard to snack on mindlessly, as the amount of flavour is overwhelming comparing to cheap milk chocolate bars. I am not saying that the latter is bad, but it's different and is fit for completely different scenarios.

4. My First 80 Days of VR for Exercise by @nathanlippi

Quite surprising that we don't see more posts like this, given the amount of VR-powered devices here and there:

VR games make working out fun; as we get older, many of us tend to play less, become more serious -- but it doesn't have to be that way.

I've found that I get so immersed in a game that I won't even notice that I'm sweating. The challenge and fun of the games keep me excited to continue working out every day.

The curious part is not the fact that the heart rate variability after doing the VR exercises changes, but the delta, even though it is an extremely sensitive metric, and changes throughout the days or based on a bunch of other parameters.

5. Frank Lloyd Wright and the “textile block” construction system by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer

FLW is a famous American architector, and while he designed hundreds of things through his career, apparently he also came up with a different construction system to be better at it:

Rather than using the standard cinder block, rough and unsightly, Wright designed a block that could be molded on site into different patterns, some of them solid, some perforated for glass inserts, some perforated for clear openings. The blocks themselves were made of a size and weight that could be easily handled by one person, able to lift and place them one upon the other, and then pour concrete grout down inside the grooved edges, bonding the whole wall together without the customary concrete mason’s mortar course. This method of construction rendered the use of skilled masons unnecessary; relatively unskilled labor could easily erect the walls.

His autobiography is on my reading list for quite a while now, maybe that's a sign to bump it up a bit.

6. Reasons why Babies Cry in the First Three Months, How to Tell Them Apart, and What to Do by Malte Skarupke

OK, so I've opened this article because I thought it will teach me how to tell babies apart.

It didn't.

In fact it's about telling apart different types of babies' cries, and I didn't really want to know about most of the reasons just yet.

4.4 Witching Hour
That’s what it’s called. For some reason it’s common for babies to get angry in the evening. This happened for us for at least half the days in the first three months. It sucks. It’s just very important that you know this exists. We were puzzled a lot early on before we knew this was a thing. (we’d wonder “you were doing so well all day, what’s up now?”)

It was a fun read though.

7. My Smart Home 2021 by @jorisroovers

Posts about smart home setups are one of my favourite, not only because I constantly lack the imagination of things I could easily automate, but also because recently I got rid of some of the devices and now am looking for replacements.

When I started out with home automation in 2016, I wasn’t as savvy nor comfortable going “all in” on Home Assistant without trying it for a while. As a result, I mostly bought smart devices that supported multiple ecoystems (Apple HomeKit, Google Home and Home Assistant) as a way to hedge against Home Assistant not working out.

In practice, this translated to my setup heavily relying on Philips Hue and Ikea Trådfri hubs. While this worked fairly well (and the Home Assistant integrations became a lot more reliable over the years), the indirection of using hubs remained suboptimal. I was also using a few TP Link Wifi smartplugs that I wanted to get rid off.

Also learnt about vibration sensors, so sounds like I got myself a weekend project.

8. Designing A High Signal Interview Process by @mergesort

This is a really decent way to approach interviews, and something I do very similarly (and honestly expect companies to do as well if I am being interviewed).

Once the interview has wrapped up it’s ok to take some time to figure out your thoughts, but don’t take too long. If the process went as expected the interviewers should have a good idea about whether they want to hire a candidate after the third interview, so all that’s left is to figure out the specifics. It’s not unreasonable to come out of an interview to pressing work but it’s important to close this loop, try to make an official call by the end of the day (or early the next day if the interview took place in the afternoon) so the candidate will remember this process favorably no matter the result.

On that know, I am hiring an iOS engineer to work with me full time (remote is fine but the timezone needs to be close to GMT). Please reply to this email if you want more details or drop me a DM on Twitter.

9. how I think when I think about programming by @alicemazzy

To be fair, the way I think about programming is not much different:

learning a new technology, for an experienced programmer, usually doesn't look like concerted study, thwarted attempts, struggle and triumph. it looks like reading a three-paragraph summary of it, coding in or against it based on vibes, checking documentation for syntax, and bitching about how dumb the guy who designed it must have been

Programming is more about concepts rather than peculiarities of specific languages and frameworks. Experience with a tool is a great thing, but being able to learn how to use a new tool in a short amount of time is way more precious.

10. My Notebook System by Dave Gauer

I try and give up note-taking pretty much every few months. Partly because I don't use the notes I make, partly because they don't aid much in my thinking process. I still hope to unlock some secret powers within the process though, so don't give up:

Before switching to paper, I tried a number of methods involving phone apps and web applications. (The web applications were simple things I wrote myself). Only paper has been fast enough and flexible enough to work in every condition.

That being said, my latest toy for note taking – a dodecahedron that logs different actions based on the side it is laying – ran out of battery a few months ago and I didn't use it ever since.

Things I didn't know last Tuesday

1. Philosophers' ships

100 years ago Lenin expelled a few hundreds intellectuals from Soviet Russia. They were allowed to take a few pieces of clothing, but pretty much nothing else, given that dollars were illegal to own.

Philosophers' ships (Russian: Философский пароход), also known individually as philosopher's steamboat is a term used for steamships which transported intellectuals expelled from Soviet Russia in 1922.

These days I am even more convinced that history goes in circles, as more and more of my fellow countrymen are going into exile being unable to protest to the government without risking their lifes and lifes of their relatives.

I always thought these words have the same root, but they actually don't:

There is no house in penthouse. It came from Anglo-Norman pentiz, which was an outbuilding, or "appendage" to a main building.

So a penthouse is just a part of a building (albeit usually a fancy one).

3. Are sprouted potatoes safe to eat?

I thought that potato sprouts are cut out mostly for aesthetic reasons. In fact it's to reduce the concentration of toxins:

The entire potato plant contains glycoalkaloids, but the highest concentration is found in the leaves, flowers, "eyes," green skin, and sprouts. The lowest concentration is found in the white body of the potato. Toxicity is increased by physical injury to the plant, low storage temperature, and storage in bright light.

For the same reasons it might be unwise to eat raw potato peels.

4. Zero rupee note

This is a great way to deal with corruption:

Zero-rupee note is designed to fight against corruption in an innovative way. Yes, a zero rupee note is a type of novel & innovative money issued in India as a means of helping to fight systemic political corruption. The notes are paid in protest by angry citizens to government functionaries who solicit bribes in return for services which are supposed to be free.

I couldn't find much information on it (un)success, but why not?

5. How the Golden Gate Bridge is painted

A hilarious story about how the Golden Gate Bridge colour was chosen.

When the time came to choose a color, a debate began between multiple entities. Joseph Strauss, the project’s chief engineer, and his colleagues reportedly suggested a carbon black and steel gray scheme, similar to the cold exterior of the Bay Bridge. The Navy, in an attempt to maximize visibility to ships and airplanes, proposed an outlandish design with yellow and black stripes.

Not sure what is worse, trying to understand why it's "golden" when it's not or why it's painted as a bumblebee. I'd probably pick the former, and I am glad that they did too.

6. Sensed presence effect

An interesting effect of meditation for some people:

The first odd thing I experienced was the inexplicable feeling that there was someone else in the room during my meditation. Luckily this didn't disturb me too much, one of the books I had read at that time mentioned that this was something that could happen during zazen. I now know that it is called the sensed presence effect.

Never felt it myself, but then I never meditate consistently enough.

7. Does chocolate break the fast?

Seems like theologists of the past had really important problems to solve, like the one where they argued whether it's OK to drink chocolate during the fast or not:

In the event, these arguments all proved academic because chocolate consumption became so popular that the Church could do little to shape the behaviour of its faithful in the matter. In 1692 Pope Innocent XII even received a request from Carmelites in Madrid for a dispensation to drink chocolate inside the walls of their convent.

Long story short, it became allowed once some of the believers started to earn money from chocolate making and lobbied it to the Pope.

8. Nacirema

To make it easier for Americana anthropologist to observe the behaviour of Americans they came up with a word to provide this mental barrier:

Nacirema ("American" spelled backwards) is a term used in anthropology and sociology in relation to aspects of the behavior and society of citizens of the United States of America. The neologism attempts to create a deliberate sense of self-distancing in order that American anthropologists might look at their own culture more objectively.

Are there any other nations that did the same?

9. Medieval Photoshop

Pretty much the whole post is worth reading through, but in a nutshell even centuries ago there were certain techniques for copying and pasting images between different engravings.

Knowing the techniques used in the Kattendijke Chronicle I can now imagine the woodcut designer had the engraving in his stack of images and was looking for figures to fill the room around Christ. Once aware of the compilation techniques, you also start to notice that other figures in woodcut images have an odd position or seem to be somewhat floating. In the case of this woodcut, the figure to the right of Christ, for example, hovering over Joseph, seems to be a ‘re-contextualized’ shepherd from an Adoration scene, although I have not been able to identify him.

At least they didn't have a Medieval Xcode.

10. The Three Christs of Ypsilanti

That's probably a fresh addition to my reading list:

In the late 1950s, psychologist Milton Rokeach was gripped by an eccentric plan. He gathered three psychiatric patients, each with the delusion that they were Jesus Christ, to live together for two years in Ypsilanti State Hospital to see if their beliefs would change.

Some of the patients eventually started to suspect that they're insane, and the logic was that those other patients were saying the same things while they were clearly unwell, so they probably were unwell too.

Would have to read the book written based on the events to get the full picture though.

Book of the week

I've never been to Napa valley, even though spent nearly a week almost next to it.

The problem was my age.

I was twenty years old, so there was not much of a point in traveling to the vineyards for me.

I wasn't even allowed to get a few bottles of Napa wine in Duty Free, already past the customs, with a plane ticket to the country where I was allowed to legally buy alcohol for the past few years of my life.

Now, reading through Christopher Kostow's A New Napa Cuisine I think that I should have visited it anyway, at least for the cuisine. If you could tell from a single recipe how many Michelin stars the place has, that must be this one:

No other vessel has so directly led to the creation of a dish as this simple bowl and pourer. There is something so poetically essential in these pieces that, when seen halfway through a meal in the guise of a bouillon course, they serve to reinvigorate the senses—reaffirming the spirit of simplicity that exists, a bit more hidden, in all of the courses that precede it and in those that will follow.
Clay and essence of fire roasted meats, consumed in that intuitive manner of hands together cradling the warming clay and bringing broth to mouth.

This is the author's recipe for a dish of roasted meats broth. A very simple one, and yet beautifully served, and properly built around the story of its vessels.

Cooking is always about ingredients, but it is also a way to tell a story.

Most of these stories are short, and we forget about them by the time the next course is served.

Sometimes we remember until the end of the dinner.

Way less often we don't really forget, and occasionally bring up the dishes we tried even after years.

And most of these hard to forget dishes are surprisingly simple – because complexity is rarely the point.

Thank you and see you in a week!

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Cheers! 🍸