by Vadim Drobinin

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

03.05.2022 (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 foraging

I grew up in a moderate exposure to the countryside, so as the result do not fancy the nature as much as many city folks.

Mainly because of all the inconvenience it brings, but also thanks to all the buzzing specimens that fly around.

That being said, this week I got exposed to way more nature than usually as we've decided to partake in one of the most ancient activities: foraging.

It's easier to say than to do.

In theory, foraging in the UK is perfectly legal as far as it's for personal use and on the public land.

In fact, there are lots of things to bear in mind, from knife restrictions to Sites of Special Scientific Interest where foraging is forbidden (and the latter happen to be wherever there are train stations).

Also half of the herbs apparently have poisonous look-alikes, so I just miss good old times of my childhood, when mushroom hunting was just very straightforward (if it looks like a cep, it's fine, everything else is not).

Look at these beauties though. Wild garlic looks way better than it smells, but if you've seen it before you could smell it even through the picture:

Works great in a pasta too:

Next time I will hopefully have some pictures of spruce gelato which is infusing as I write. On that note, the train tickets probably costed more than getting a similar harvest at a farmers' market, but it was definitely more fun.

Things I enjoyed reading

1. How I Use Targeted Ads as My Personal Shopping Assistant by @haysprank

This is a really good idea:

Then I figured out that if I click on an ad for something I know I eventually want to buy, it will likely repopulate on my social media feeds through targeted advertising. Those ads will then start to serve as little reminders to myself. It’s an easy system. I simply click on an ad, and it pops back up in my feed over and over again until I have the means (or the time) to buy the thing. These targeted ads have become like my own personal secretary pool.

I do this occasionally too, mostly because most social media allow you to get the list of all ads you've clicked before, so they're also accessible if the algorithms for some reasons decided not to remind you about those things again. I've also noticed that the longer you ignore those apps, the more pleading they become: it starts with small discounts and turns into proper promotions quite quickly.

2. Imitate, then Innovate by @david_perell

The words I live by, actually: this is a bit different from the infamous "fake it till you make it", and to me that's because imitation is always on par with the original, while something fake rarely is:

Through imitation, you can create your own apprenticeship. I know a painting coach who tells her students to listen for resistance in the imitation process. She says that your authentic artistic voice shines in the delta between your own style and the style of the painter you want to emulate.

There are probably fields where it doesn't apply, but engineering definitely isn't one of them. And cooking apparently too.

3. How to Write a Git Commit Message by @cbeams

And as we talk about engineering, there are some skills that probably won't ever be redundant. And the first one among them is how to write a commit message.

Even though I rarely manage to maintain the log up to my own standarts, the messages are so vital I actually spent some time double checking if I already posted something similar in the previous newsletters:

In most cases, you can leave out details about how a change has been made. Code is generally self-explanatory in this regard (and if the code is so complex that it needs to be explained in prose, that’s what source comments are for). Just focus on making clear the reasons why you made the change in the first place—the way things worked before the change (and what was wrong with that), the way they work now, and why you decided to solve it the way you did.

Goes without saying that if your code is not clear enough and you try to fix it with a commit message, write a comment instead (or better refactor the code to make it more readable).

4. Exposed by a Strava KOM: the many lives of a fake pro cyclist by Iain Treloar

I do not enjoy cycling, and yet apparently I do enjoy reading about cyclist, when it turns into a detective story with a few unexpected turns:

In the course of dozens of interviews over well over a year, a few words kept coming up: Sociopath. Liar. Narcissist. Another term emerged: pseudologica fantastica. Others spoke of the experience as a kind of folie a deux – a shared delusion, where others are caught up in another’s lie, coming to nestle inside of it with the liar.

And no, the pun wasn't intended.

5. Stop Using Loading Spinner, There’s Something Better by @Suleiman_194

As a developer I both hate spinners because the mostly mess up with UI threads, and love them because they're the easiest thing one could add to a green field project.

Until everything has loaded, do you have any idea what to expect on screen? I bet you don’t. You might even get surprised once the UI and content display.

Now think about your users. Until everything has loaded, they have completely no idea what to expect on screen. I bet they’ll get surprised too.

Hopefully, the modern APIs and SwiftUI for those lucky ones will make using skeletons way more straightforward than it was up until now.

6. Strategies and patterns of gray hat social media automation by Trickster Dev

Years ago I was a big fan of social media automation, but then eventually got tired of it and spent quite some time cleaning up my Instagram account from thousands of bots and fake users. Should have spent it making those profitable:

Another approach is develop code to read RSS feeds of prominent news sources, use something like Bannerbear API to turn them into headline images and post them with link to original source.

Yet another way is to simply repost well performing content from other accounts. Many Instagram theme pages were build by doing exactly this - a practice known as “cash cow” pages.

Probably it's not too late though, might as well check if any of my Meta friends are keen on chit-chating about their captcha strategies.

7. Hiding a photo inside another photo by @avestura

One of my favourite topics in IT is security and all things related, and while reading QR codes with a pen and paper is fun while tiresome, using math to put two pictures into one is not.

Can your eyes detect any changes in the result photo? I assume no, it surely looks like the previous photo (unless you've got supernatural eyes), because we've only changed a single bit with the least significance. With this basic trick we can embed a photo inside another photo without anyone noticing that something is a little bit off (pun intended).

This is also a beautiful example of how limited we are as human beings when it comes to pure data.

8. Things I don’t want to do to grow my side project by @wagslane

As someone with decades' worth of experience launching but never finishing side projects, I do relate: there are things required for them to grow that I just loathe to think of, so never do.

I did my own taxes a couple times. The stress of doing something wrong was torture. It’s not like I was doing anything even close to illegal, I had a w-2 job and made a negligible amount of income on the side from various projects. Trying to figure it all out myself was a nightmare, and I really don’t want to try that again.

Taxes are less of a problem for me though. This also sounds like a missed opportuinity for a contextual ad of some tax adviser, so if tax advisers read this newsletter you know what to do.

9. the agony of eros: dating by Ava

An interesting take on the state of the union when it comes to dating:

I don’t think lists like that are helpful, because you’re probably subconsciously filtering based on those qualities anyway. The real thing people should be actively looking for is strong emotional connection, as in: to what degree can I share who I am with this person, do they get it, how interested are they in who I am, my feelings and thoughts, can we accommodate each other’s preferences, are we good at talking.

I am slightly surprised that the abundance of mobile apps and other mediums didn't help at finding the aformentioned emotional connection as it felt like that's what they were built for.

10. Online Identity by @ja3k_

If you use third-party providers for signing in on websites, think about the following:

I worry these companies could go away faster than we think. Facebook traded at a P/E of under 13 earlier this week. When was the last new high quality Google product? I still search on Google because I hate change but it does seem like it's getting worse in some ways. What will happen to Google and Facebook Oauth when these behemoths are decomposing on the ocean floor?

I wouldn't worry much about Google in this example: if Google goes under, then their email service's disappearance would be a bigger issue than the rest of third-party logins, but Facebook at all are probably not as reliable anyway, unless that's the whole point.

Things I didn't know last Tuesday

1. Chinese finger trap

I was watching the Severance series recently, and this one was a new concept to me:

The finger trap is a simple puzzle that traps the victim's fingers (often the index fingers) in both ends of a small cylinder woven from bamboo. The initial reaction of the victim is to pull their fingers outward, but this only tightens the trap. The way to escape the trap is to push the ends toward the middle, which enlarges the openings and frees the fingers.

Not sure if I actually got the idea completely, so seems like I need to get some from Amazon first (once I convince myself that £8 for 5 traps is a fair price).

2. Australian Wagyu cows are fed Cadbury's chocolate

I didn't even know cows would eat chocolate but to find out that it's done on purpose is fascinating:

They're fed a mix of expired Cadbury's chocolate, broken cookies and candy, approximately two kilograms per day. It's not all they eat -- they're only fed it in the last two months of their lives -- but it gives the prime wagyu beef a unique flavor loved by some of the world's greatest chefs, and pretty much any diner who tries it.

Now I want to try the chocolate-fed beef side-by-side with the normal one.

3. Arctic Coke Machines

Supercooling is not a new thing, but this is the first time I see it used in a commercial setup available for the public to see:

The Arctic Coke machine turns a bottle of Coca-Cola into a slushy in seconds. A shopper selects a 20-oz. bottle from the Arctic Coke cooler, which keeps the beverages at a temperature below freezing, and places it on a platform. The shopper then can push a button to have the machine vibrate the bottle, forming ice crystals in the drink within a second.

There are a few bars that serve cocktails in a similar fashion, and with enough patience it could even be done at home with an ordinary freezer.

4. Noyau

I am still not sure if I understood how it is pronounced:

A French liqueur made at Poissy in north central France from brandy and flavoured with almonds and the pits of apricots.

But I also learnt that foragers use beech leaves to make noyau at home.

5. Cereal nutrition value is based on assumption that you'd add milk

I care about my calorie intake, so stories like that are very confusing: here the company is trying to go to the court because they want their labels to mention nutrition value after you've added milk.

The legislation, however, is derived from fairly old technical advice published in 2011, which dictates judging the nutritional content of cereals “as sold”: dry. Kellogg’s contends that because cereal is almost always eaten with milk — indeed, 28 percent of milk consumed across the nation per year comes out of a bowl filled with flaky grains — it should be judged “as consumed”: wet.

That's quite sad for those of us who just eat cereal as crisps.

6. Agog

My new favourite word:

full of intense interest or excitement, eager.

And that's the best way to memorise new words: use them sparingly in all conversations, from Zoom calls to restaurant orders.

7. Tavuk göğsü

I barely remember my last visit to Turkey but I'd probably remember this dish if I tried it:

Tavuk göğsü (Turkish, "chicken breast") is a Turkish milk pudding made with shredded chicken breast. It was a delicacy served to Ottoman sultans in the Topkapı Palace, and is now a well-known dish in Turkey.

So now I have to decide whether I should just make it at home or save the excitement for my next visit to the country.

8. Non Enzymatic Browning

When we think of food reactions, the most common ones are Maillard reaction and caramelisation, or at least it seems so. In fact there are way more, from lipid oxidation to degradation of ascorbic acid.

Just image the aroma of melting chocolate, freshly baked bread or a roasting leg of lamb, the golden color of a croissant, the dark amber color of a well brewed beer; caramels, toast. These are all caused NEB reactions.

Wish they taught that chemistry at schools.

9. Red clover is from the pea and bean family

I didn't even think these flowers could be from the bean family. They definitely don't look like one.

Red clover is a very common plant in the pea and bean family. Don’t pick too many – bees love them. Clovers occasionally have four leaflets, instead of the usual three. They can even have five, six, or more leaflets, but these are rarer.

They don't taste like pea either.

10. Vie fittizie

Italian cities have streets that are not on the maps, as they were invented to bypass bureaucracy protocols and allow people without actual addresses to get access to medical help and so on:

They are all examples of the “invisible” streets found in almost every major town across Italy and are mostly unknown to people without an address there. The vie fittizie, or fictitious streets, are a hand-me-down from the post-war era, when local authorities invented imaginary addresses as a way of linking the population to the land.

That's a pretty cool way to solve a problem (which they've created too).

Book of the week

Surprisingly this is not the first book on foraging I read, but probably a better organised one.

John Lewis-Stempel's Foraging fixes an important issue of the ones I've seen before: the order.

Many books either stick to the alphabetical order, or group items into types (mushrooms, herbs, etc). Here the categories are different and are derived from places where the plants could be found (city, forest, seaside, and so on).

It still isn't perfect, but at least narrows down the options when you look at an unknown herb and wonder if it's edible.

The gardener’s revenge on Ground Elder is to serve it up in a dish. A perennial pot-herb imported by the Romans, Ground Elder has leaves and shoots with a pungent strong parsley-ish taste. Pick in spring and early summer before the plant flowers, and boil or steam as a green vegetable. Leaves can also be chopped and added to omelettes and fritters.
The plant, found throughout the realm, grows up to 1m tall. Leaves are divided into three lobes which together look a little like a hoof mark; ‘Aegepodium’ is Greek for ‘goat’s foot’. Ground Elder has white flowers, arranged in umbels on a hollow stem.
In days of yore, Ground Elder was held to be good for relieving the symptoms of gout. Since ecclesiasts were believed to be chronic sufferers of the disease (on account of their taste for wine and rich food), the folk name of Bishop’s Weed followed as a matter of course.

For now my skills are quite limited to only a few plants though, as these are the ones I've seen and tried. And maybe two or three mushrooms, but I am yet to find any of them here.

Thank you and see you in a week!

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Cheers! 🍸