Tuesday Triage

Tuesday Triage #200 and giveaway

Published 30 days ago • 27 min read

by Vadim Drobinin

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

14.05.2024 (read in browser)

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In case you missed it, the last three paid editions included:

  • #197 on getting ready for summer, where I make Tonka bean ice cream, procure English wasabi roots, and figure out the difference between mazes and labyrinths.
  • #198 on opening the season, where I make the first BBQ of the year, entertain myself with Scottish wedding customs, and argue about shades of purple.
  • #199 on traditional techniques, where I make authentic yakitori, excessively read about alcohol and question Apple's take on sleep habits.

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On 200 editions

It's been an incredible journey of nearly four years since I hit send on that very first edition of Tuesday Triage.

Little did I know back then that a humble attempt to share interesting reads with my wife would blossom into a weekly newsletter with thousands of avid readers.

As we celebrate the 200th edition, I want to express my gratitude to all of you who have been along for this ride. Your support and enthusiasm, your emails with trivia and suggestions, and your subscriptions to paid editions for the past 100 newsletters have been the driving force behind my commitment to curating the Internet's crème de la crème each week.

For those craving more, I invite you to join the Tuesday Triage inner circle by subscribing to receive the newsletter four times more often - every week - while also gaining access to the entire archive.

To mark this milestone, I'm giving away 3 paid annual subscriptions. Simply share Tuesday Triage on Instagram, tag me (@valzevul), and you're entered to win.

If giveaways aren't your thing, use the code 200OFTT for a one-off 25% discount on any paid plan.

Things I enjoyed reading

1. The Hidden-Pregnancy Experiment by Jia Tolentino

I'd often joke about phones spying on their owners whenever I meat with my friends, especially those working for Google or Apple, but in recent years they laugh less: either because I am getting too repetitive (I swear I am not) or because it becomes more and more possible given the effort advertising companies are putting into obtaining one's data.

There is still hope for privacy though, and this is a very good long read about someone who tried to hide their pregnancy from ads on the Internet:

My modest experiment went surprisingly smoothly. Because I’d had my first child not long before, this time I didn’t need to buy anything, and I didn’t want to learn anything. I smooth-brained my way to three months, four months, five; no diaper ads. I called up a lawyer and data-privacy specialist named Dominique Shelton Leipzig to get her perspective. Globally, she told me, we generate 2.5 quintillion bytes—that’s eighteen zeroes—of data per day. “The short answer is, you probably haven’t hidden what you think you have,” she said. I told her about the rules I’d set for myself, that I didn’t have many apps and had bought nothing but prenatal vitamins, and that Instagram did not appear to have identified me as pregnant. She paused. “I’m amazed,” she told me. “If you didn’t see any ads, I think you might have succeeded.” I congratulated myself by instantly dropping the experiment and buying maternity pants; ads for baby carriers popped up on my Instagram within minutes.

To be honest, I often don't mind ads – if I am actually looking for something, I'd rather get ads on Instagram and buy the thing I am already looking for than spend hours comparing reviews on a dozen of different websites. But what annoys me a lot is how these ads are usually outdated or delayed. Often I'd start getting them once I've already bought the thing I need, and the chances that I decide to buy a second pizza oven or another laptop are quite slim.

2. Why your balsamic vinegar is likely fake by Priya Mani

I can easily justify spending a fortune on cooking ingredients or gadgets, but there are certain things I don't really understand, maybe because I didn't have a chance to try them properly. Balsamic vinegar is one of those, and its price in Europe never made sense to me, but that's most likely because the "balsamic vinegar" I saw in my childhood had nothing to do with the real one:

Still, small producers continue the tradition, and anyone who tastes real balsamic vinegar will understand the difference. With the level of expertise and time it takes to create this liquid "black gold", Vecchi emphasised how a little balsamic goes a long way. "Drizzle just a few drops over fresh fruit, like strawberries or melon and let it sit for about 30 minutes," she said. "An omelette with a few drops of traditional balsamic vinegar is an everyday luxury, as are Modenese specialities like calzogatti (polenta cooked with beans), maltagliati con verdure (pasta with vegetables) and aged Parmesan cheese too."

Probably next time I think of buying another fancy spirit I might as well get a small bottle of the vinegar instead and see if it works in cocktails as well as it does in food (spoiler alert: it does, I tried a delicious Martinez years back which had a few drops of balsamic vinegar).

3. Apple made a terrible mistake: it told the truth by Mark Hurst

I didn't watch the latest Apple presentation live, partly because my old iPad Pro is still more than enough for my demands (that is, monthly Skype calls with parents and occasional drafting of this newsletter when I am traveling somewhere).

I did, however, watched the aformentioned advert for it once all news media started to report how Apple managed to angry their own users:

I have to give Apple credit here: the video is boldly telling us the truth. Other companies hide their true agenda, or even – if they have real competition – occasionally try to make things better for customers. But Apple’s globe-spanning monopoly gives it that walk-away scale of money and power that allows it to say – and then do – whatever it wants. For a totalizing company like Apple and the other Big Tech beasts, anything that stands in the way of the company’s dominance must be destroyed. You like playing the guitar for friends on the beach? No. Use a screen instead. You enjoy reading print books, which don’t spy on you as you read them? Not acceptable. Use a screen. Do you value being creative, or social, or just living a moment of your life off the screen? Get over it. Everything else will be destroyed. Only screens will remain.

I do agree with the auther here though. Yes, from the business perspective it wasn't a great marketing effort. But all those people saying that Apple lost their connection with the reality are just afraid to acknowledge how the world is changing.

They might not be doomed because of AI but they most definitely will be because of their ignorance.

4. The rise of the job-search bots by Aki Ito

The last time I searched for a job was before the pandemic and I was quite lucky to have enough "street cred" from conferences and open source projects not to struggle with this quest. My last public talk was years ago and I am not sure if I have something new to say yet, but this is an interesting perspective on how the modern job searching landscape looks like:

So when I heard that you can now use a bot to mass-apply to job openings, I was intrigued. The bots — with names like LazyApply and Massive — have turned job hunting into a technological arms race. You pay a fee, feed your résumé into the bot, tell it what you're looking for, and blam! — it starts sending out hundreds of applications on your behalf, often in real time. It's the promise of AI, applied to the job market: an intelligent, personalized, HR-slaying machine, designed to land you a gig through a combination of tech-savvy and brute force.

I don't really feel pity for HRs here but I do have to review CVs myself whenever we're looking for a new addition to the team, so this trend is probably not as hilarious as I initially thought.

5. If you want to belong, find a third place by Allie Volpe

In the past people in search of a community would go to church, but as churches are declining in popularity people are looking for new places to find their community: I guess some help at orchards, and some go to gyms.

As a result, third places are trust and relationship builders: You encounter a person frequently enough that you naturally graduate from a polite smile to small talk to perhaps deeper conversation. “You start to get the feeling that maybe I can trust that person if they say hello to me,” Giuffre says. “It’s not the beginning of some scam.” According to a 2007 study, even employees in these places, like bartenders and hairdressers, can provide emotional support to patrons looking for a sympathetic ear. You don’t need to take on the herculean task of making new friends to be less lonely. You may just need a third place. Simply developing acquaintance-like relationships is enough to foster feelings of belonging, studies show.

I wonder if my love to sit at the bar and chit-chat with bartenders comes from the same background – I am not looking to make new friends as well, but there must be certain emotional support I gain from discussing Martini specs at a bar anyway.

6. How to be an amateur polyglot by arisAlexis

It's always very inspiring to read about people's experiene of learning languages. Partly because I never stop learning at least two of them myself, and partly because I dream of learning more one day, but for the past few years am getting constantly discouraged by the consistent improvements of LLMs and chat bots, so could hardly explain why I might need to learn Chinese by 2028 when most likely in 2028 an AirPods 6 will have a built-in live translator in my ear.

Try to start messaging your friends that are native speakers (better to avoid at first other friends that are trying to learn the language because you may repeat their mistakes). Try to say a few words or kick start a conversation in a group with the native speaker. They will be happy to respond back unless they are Spanish(!) and they will reply back in English. You need to specifically tell Spaniards that you want to practice their language. I am kidding of course but I have multiple real-world examples of me having a chat going like: Hola como estas? (native speaker answers) I’m fine, how about you! (me) Todo bien, vamos hoy por la playa? (native speaker) Sure what time? (me) sobre las 7? (native speaker) OK great see you at the beach! (me irritated) amigo, entiendes que estoy hablando en tu idioma? (native speaker) yes but I also want to practice my English!

I do relate to struggling with getting native speakers among friends to help in your language-learning journey. Most of my English acquaintances would just dismiss my plea to correct my mistakes as they happen and nod as I go as far as they understand the idea.

7. My 25-Year Engineering Career Retrospective by Nicola Ballotta

I've been doing software for two thirds of my life, and probably for at least 16 years I've been (occasionally) paid for it. I am yet to have a proper retrospective on my career so far but I do agree with many takeaways here:

Achieving a healthy work-life balance is essential for long-term success and well-being.

Regrettably, in the middle of my career, I neglected this aspect of my life in pursuit of career advancement.

I often prioritized work at the expense of personal time.

Looking back, I would have probably adopted a more balanced approach, setting clear boundaries between work and personal life.

Personally I am very happy with my work-life balance in the past few years. I am not sure what was the main factor, quitting a startup for a more grounded company, or moving to exclusively work from home, or giving up titles in exchange of the chance to choose the projects I want to build, but it's definitely way healthier the way it is now.

8. Turning AirPods into a Fitness Tracker to Fight Cancer by Richard Das

Working in the med tech industry, I often get to think out of the box about technologies we could access and their application in the field. The not so old announcement about APIs that allow us, developers, to track user's position via AirPods lead to some brainstorming sessions in my team, but after some tests we shelved the idea to use it for seizures detection, as running the app in background 24/7 and then guess lots of information based on head's position didn't feel effective.

It works great as a fitness tracker though, and this is a great example:

We can also check for the user being in the prone position (lying flat, facing downwards) by seeing if the pitch value is lower than our threshold.

A little trial and error shows us that CMHeadphoneMotionManager is calibrated pretty logically, giving you pitch = 0 when you’re wearing AirPods and looking forwards, -1 if you are facing the ground, and +1 if you are lying down facing the sky. Standing and looking up is +0.5 to +0.7 depending on how attached your head is.

There is also lots of room for further improvements here, but these days I'd build a similar tool using Vision instead, as it gives way more accuracy when it comes to the user's position in space.

9. The Sound of Software by Andy & Thomas Williams

This is a very well-crafted post about the power and importance of sounds in software. Sounds and haptics are often ignored or misused, whether it's mobile apps or websites, but they could be powerful tools:

Sound designers often create new sounds or add dimensionality by layering multiple sounds. Think of it like bringing together ingredients when cooking. If your sound needs a build up, you might add a reverse whoosh. If it needs a satisfying moment of punctuation, you might add a clear percussive hit. If you want to lift the mood, you might sprinkle in a few musical tones. Combining all of your ingredients not only creates a sound that satisfies your needs, but it tends to create something that sounds entirely new.

Layers can be brought together from any sound source—natural recordings, synthesized, musical instruments. It’s in the combining and layering of sources together that you craft what you want your sound to do.

The only thing I'd challenge is the suggestion to override one's sound settings (right before suggesting to "give back control"). If I place my phone in silent mode, and the app decides to ignore it, the app is no more.

10. Mexico’s Floating Gardens Are an Ancient Wonder of Sustainable Farming by Peter Yeung

First things first, floating gardens aren't actually floating and I had no idea about that. These are more like raised beds on a very large scale, which seems to be very efficient and convenient, but they're not floating in lakes or something.

The design of the chinampas is particularly efficient in its use of water, which it can absorb and retain from the surrounding canals for long periods as well as allowing crops to draw from the groundwater directly, reducing the need for active irrigation.

This could prove hugely valuable for Mexico City and its 22 million residents, since water supplies have fallen to historic lows due to abnormally low rainfall partly attributable to climate change. And lessons learned from the chinampas could potentially help cities around the planet: the UN World Water Development 2024 Report found the number of people lacking access to drinking water in cities will likely reach two billion by 2050.

I guess we will here more and more often about the success of initiatives like this one given the climate change trajectory.

Things I didn't know last Tuesday

1. Electromagnetic rays to shut down the engines of ebikes

Probably soon we will have British police cosplaying Ghostbusters with their new tech to stop thieves on ebikes.

The device is being developed with the Defence Science and Technology Lab, which is overseen by the Ministry of Defence, alongside other technological innovations that British police are hoping to use. It would fire an electromagnetic pulse at a vehicle that an officer wants to stop because the rider is suspected of involvement in a crime.

These days it's incredibly hard to catch one as they're not allowed to chase them in most case to avoid injuring the people around.

2. Alcohol volume changes

There must be a reason why all bartenders use jiggers and never pour multiple spirits in the same jigger simultaneously, but I doubt most of them consider the science behind the rule (I definitely didn't):

Mixing two solutions of alcohol of different strengths usually causes a change in volume. Mixing pure water with a solution less than 24% by mass causes a slight increase in total volume, whereas the mixing of two solutions above 24% causes a decrease in volume. The phenomenon of volume changes due to mixing dissimilar solutions is called "partial molar volume". Water and ethanol are both polar solvents. When water is added to ethanol, the smaller water molecules are attracted to the ethanol's hydroxyl group, and each molecule alters the polarity field of the other. The attraction allows closer spacing between molecules than is usually found in non-polar mixtures.

Maybe one day the industry will switch to scales as well.

3. Tolkien stopped a Beatles LOTR film

Sounds like an April Fool's joke, but the Beatles were trying to film the Lord of the Rings way before Peter Jackson:

In 1968 Peter Jackson was only six and so had no idea of the events taking place that would later have such a big impact on his career as a director.

That was the year author JRR Tolkien refused The Beatles permission to make a film version of his fantasy epic The Lord of The Rings.

I wonder what soundtracks they'd have chosen.

4. Cruise ship overboard detection systems

I am yet to board a cruise ship (maybe closer to my retirement) but even though since the Titanic times a lot has changed from the passengers' safety perspective, these survival rates are appaling:

Between 2009 and 2019, there were 212 overboard incidents globally involving passengers and crew, according to statistics compiled for CLIA by consulting firm G.P. Wild (International) Limited. Only 48 people were rescued.

So those detection systems either don't work, or work too slow. Seems like a big well-paying market to me if anyone is keen on building a new startup.

I often watched Sesame Street in my childhood, but never thought how much of a lie that is:

According to David Borgenicht's "Sesame Street Unpaved" (via The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book), the reason Cookie Monster can't have any cookies is two-fold. The chocolate and oil in normal cookies would turn the fabric of the Muppets greasy, and we assume that it's no picnic scrubbing melted chocolate and crumbs from the fur of a Muppet to begin with. The secondary reason for the lightweight "cookies" is that, thanks to Cookie Monster's design, the "rice cookies" pass through the space of Cookie Monster's mouth and land harmlessly on the head of his puppeteer, preventing some messy bloopers.

Imagine growing up and loving cookies thanks to a TV show just to learn that these were painted rice cakes.

6. The Symbolism Survey

I can't remember how many times I had to invent some hidden meaning in author's words when writing high school essays, and I definitely questioned whether those authors even thought about something similar.

Well at least someone had the will to question it:

In 1963, a sixteen-year-old San Diego high school student named Bruce McAllister sent a four-question mimeographed survey to 150 well-known authors of literary, commercial, and science fiction. Did they consciously plant symbols in their work? he asked. Who noticed symbols appearing from their subconscious, and who saw them arrive in their text, unbidden, created in the minds of their readers? When this happened, did the authors mind?

Pretty much a half of those authors replied, and answers vary a lot. Some of them are quite sad though – I never enjoyed Ayn Rand's prose, but now I also can say that I didn't like her personality in general.

7. Samuel Finley Breese Morse

I knew the man behind the Morse Code, but had no idea he also developed an electric telegraph (and that actually happened before the Morse Code).

His work was interrupted by a horse messenger who delivered a letter from Morse’s father that read “Your dear wife is convalescent.” As Morse scurried to return home to New Haven, he received a second letter the following day telling him that his wife had died.

Realizing that the slow means of delivering messages was to blame for his not being aware of his wife’s sickness and death, the disconsolate artist focused on discovering a process of rapid long distance communication. Nearly two decades later, in 1842, Morse had developed the single-wire telegraph and co-developed the Morse code.

The whole story is quite compelling, I'd love to read his memoirs if they exist.

8. Gel that breaks down alcohol

I mentioned a few times before that to me alcohol drinks are mainly a source of flavours, as ethanol is a great flavour carrier (as is fat, but drinking oil is even more complicated). So I'd happily buy pills that could prevent me from getting drunk, so that I could enjoy more cocktails in turn:

The gel shifts the breakdown of alcohol from the liver to the digestive tract. In contrast to when alcohol is metabolised in the liver, no harmful acetaldehyde is produced as an intermediate product.

So far it's been tested only on mice but this is an exciting development, especially given that it seems to also reduce harm from the alcohol (something the other solutions on the market don't even mention).

9. Party line

Apparently most phone lines were originally public and anyone picking up the phone would join one.

Party line systems were widely used to provide telephone service, starting with the first commercial switchboards in 1878. A majority of Bell System subscribers in the mid-20th century in the United States and Canada were served by party lines, which had a discount over individual service. During wartime shortages, these were often the only available lines.

Clients who wanted private phone lines had to pay extra.

10. Operation Postmaster

I am a big fan of mainstream films, and couldn't ignore the recent Guy Ritchie's movie about one of the less known WWII operations. I had no idea the main plot wasn't much different from the real events:

The British authorities in the area refused to support the raid, which they considered a breach of Spanish neutrality. Permission for the operation to go ahead eventually came from the Foreign Office in London. On 14 January 1942, while the ships' officers were attending a party arranged by an SOE agent, the commandos entered the port aboard two tugs, overpowered the ships' crews and sailed off with the ships, including the Italian merchant vessel Duchessa d'Aosta. The raid boosted SOE's reputation at a critical time and demonstrated its ability to plan and conduct secret operations no matter the political consequences. The 2024 film The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare portrays a heavily fictionalized version of the operation.

I was also quite sad to read about the fates of pretty much everyone involved in the operation: even though this one was a success, the war was to go on for another 3 years.

Book of the week

Dave Broom is probably way more famous for his The world atlas of whisky but I never liked books claiming to cover everything about everything, unless it's the World Atlas of Coffee by James Hoffman, which does indeed cover pretty much everything you need to make decent coffee at home.

This week I am not talking about coffee though, I am talking about whisky, and Dave's A Sense of Place is one of the most delightful books I've read on the topic so far.

We are the only two cars on the road across the softly lit high plain. There are no houses, bar the occasional isolated farm; the gate at Auchmair’s reads: ‘The Slough Of Despond. May The Lord Be Praised.’ Slightly disconcerted, we press on, startling a young roe deer, which panics, runs along the fence line, then leaps to safety. Steadily, the conical shape of the Buck rises.

I climbed it as a kid while staying at my adoptive auntie’s croft in Lumsden, on the Aberdeenshire side. Baffled by my first hearing of Doric, but happy with a bowl of cream to dip my porridge into, comb honey to be spread on white bread, and browsing in the Toll of Mossat shop (‘we sell everything from a needle to an anchor’, both items prominently displayed to prove the point).

There’s a sense of space here in the Cabrach, a 16 by 13-kilometre area known as ‘Scotland’s Siberia’. It’s a forgotten part of the country whose bareness has been accentuated over the years as, one by one, the lights of its farms went out. The road ends at a white-painted house. We step into silence. Only the wind, hissing in the grass. Crows caught by the gusts, ragged feathered, seek refuge in the small stand of pines. ‘Welcome to Reekimlane,’ says Grant Gordon.

You'd expect a born and raised Glaswegian to know their drink, and the author doesn't disappoint, but it's not a book about spirits per se – it's a story about the land, weather, culture and history that come together in a bottle. It might be that I live very close to the ocean, but you do smell the salt air when scrolling through its pages, and probably even hear the barley shimmering in the wind (ok, maybe I am the seeing-illusions type).

I struggle to pinpoint what this book is though: it's definitely not a travel guide, and if you are looking for distillery recommendations, the author doesn't really nudge you in a specific direction. It's definitely not a recipes book – I am pretty sure the only recipe acknowledged across all nine chapters is "two measures of whisky, neat". It's not a technical book either – you won't be able to casually make whisky at home after finishing it.

It is though a great insight into a Scottish soul – one that indeed gives you a sense of place, an understanding of what "life" we're talking about when calling the spirit "The water of life".

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Tuesday Triage

by Vadim Drobinin

Every Tuesday, I sift through thousands of articles, posts, tweets, videos, facts, and trivia to bring you the crème de la crème of the Internet in cooking, technology, arts, and more.

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