• AtF Spark, a font to render sparklines with only text.
  • Fizzy is blockchain-based insurance against flight delays and a great example of how smart contracts can be used. The flight delay insurance is recorded in the Ethereum blockchain. This smart contract is connected to global air traffic databases, so as soon as a delay of more than two hours is observed, compensation is triggered automatically.

The discovery and loss of the cure to scurvy

I just re-read Maciej Cegłowski’s excellent essay on the discovery and loss of the remedy to scurvy.

Incidentally, I’ve seen scurvy used as a case study of how theory colours evidence (or directs the interpretation of it) before in Lukas Vermeer’s talk Creating data: a boat filled with sauerkraut.

There are loads of quotable passages, but rather than try to condense a great read into a few snippets, I’ll share a somewhat ancillary tidbit:

[T]echnological progress in one area can lead to surprising regressions. I mentioned how the advent of steam travel made it possible to accidentally replace an effective antiscorbutic with an ineffective one. An even starker example was the rash of cases of infantile scurvy that afflicted upper class families in the late 19th century. This outbreak was the direct result of another technological development, the pasteurization of cow’s milk. The procedure made milk vastly safer for infants to drink, but also destroyed vitamin C. For poorer children, who tended to be breast-fed and quickly weaned onto adult foods, this was not an issue, but the wealthy infants fed a special diet of cooked cereals and milk were at grave risk.

The essay contained two words new to me: antiscorbutic — having the effect of preventing or curing scurvy; and austral — of or coming from the south.


  • There are seven primary odors: musky, minty, floral, ethereal, camphoraceous, pungent and putrid. Taking smelly things to a confined space, like a spaceship, could be dangerous, so NASA has a master sniffer.

  • Controversial new theory suggests life wasn’t a fluke of biology—it was physics.
    The biophysicist Jeremy England made waves in 2013 with a new theory that cast the origin of life as an inevitable outcome of thermodynamics. His equations suggested that under certain conditions, groups of atoms will naturally restructure themselves so as to burn more and more energy, facilitating the incessant dispersal of energy and the rise of “entropy” or disorder in the universe. England said this restructuring effect, which he calls dissipation-driven adaptation, fosters the growth of complex structures, including living things.

  • How AI is streamlining marketing and sales. More interestingly, bots can elicit information: “I’ve learned things about my visitors that no other analytics system would show,” said Wentworth. “We’ve learned about new use cases, and we’ve learned about product problems.”

  • How Etsy ships apps. The engineers wanting to have their code shipped join a push train. “This strategy has been successful for a lot of reasons, but especially because each deploy is handled by the people most familiar with the changes that are shipping. Those that wrote the code are in the best position to recognize it breaking, and then fix it. Because of that, developers should be empowered to deploy code as needed, and remain close to its rollout.” But it doesn’t work for apps.
  • Increment is a new magazine dedicated to covering how teams build and operate software systems at scale. The inaugural issue focuses on industry best practices around on-call and incident response. Looks interesting and has gorgeous artwork by Mark Conlan.
  • Things to use instead of JWT. Kevin Burke: “In general, specifications that allow the attacker to choose the algorithm for negotiation have more problems than ones that don’t (see TLS).” Burke helpfully covers four use cases.
  • Alex Honnold becomes the first climber to free solo Yosemite’s 3,000-foot El Capitan wall. This is called the most dangerous rope-free ascent ever. “Honnold’s tolerance for scary situations is so remarkable that neuroscientists have studied the parts of his brain related to fear to see how they might differ from the norm.”
    Honnold sees it in more pragmatic terms. “With free-soloing, obviously I know that I’m in danger, but feeling fearful while I’m up there is not helping me in any way,” he said. “It’s only hindering my performance, so I just set it aside and leave it be.”
  • Scientific American: How gut bacteria tell their hosts what to eat.

Strange Horizons: Freshly Remember’d — Kirk drift

Freshly Remember’d: Kirk Drift. An epic essay on how Star Trek’s original captain is so misremembered — and why it matters.

It starts off with a bang:

Good parties diverge widely; all bad parties are bad in the same way. I am trapped at a dull dinner following a dull talk. […] The man sitting across from me and a little down the way, a bellicose bore of vague continental origin, is execrable. He is somehow attached to a mild woman who is actually supposed to be here: a shy, seemingly blameless new grad student who perpetually smiles apologetically on his behalf, in an attempt to excuse whatever he’s just said. […] We reach the point of no return when the omnijerk (really I suspect there’s just one vast eldritch horror sitting in another dimension that extrudes its thousand tentacles into our own, and that each one of This Guy is merely an insignificant manifestation of the beast: they couldn’t all be so boring in precisely the same way by chance, surely) decides to voice some Dinner Party Opinions on original-series Star Trek. God knows why. It’s not five seconds before he’s on ‘Kirk and the green women’. He’s mocking the retrosexist trope, but smiling a little weirdly while doing it. His own insufficiently private enjoyment is peeking out, like a semi-erection on his face. […] “You’re thinking of Pike,” I say. “The captain in the unaired pilot. Some of that footage got reused for a later story, which made Pike into a previous captain of the Enterprise. And it never actually happened — it was a hallucination sequence designed by aliens who didn’t know what they were doing in order to tempt Pike. He rejected it.”

The essay is persuasive, funny and rich with examples that made me go and re-watch some of the episodes mentioned. I’ve cherrypicked a few fragments that resonated with me, but you should really read it in full. (It will take some time.)

Why can’t we see what’s in front of us? Why can’t we read? Why do we remember green women, molested, when there weren’t any, and the wrong “three little words”? Why has Kirk Drift occurred, affecting this character and this text? I contend this is not just random mismemory, but a sort of motivated, non-accidental, culture-wide process of forgetting. It’s the result of a kyriarchal tendency in reception and in memory that affects not only the reboots, but even our ability to see what happens in a text. Even when it’s right before our eyes, we can’t see Star Trek for our idea of it.

It’s not just about Kirk:

Kirk Drift is strongly at work in our popular histories as well as our texts. We are always being robbed of our radical inheritance: of black stories, of queer stories, of rupture.

Emphasis mine:

The “Zapp Brannigan says Trump quotes” meme is not in and of itself anything like so directly, screamingly incorrect. It is, however, exemplary of the drift to toxic masculinity that made these ridiculous figures possible. If Brannigan is a parody of heroism, he must necessarily also represent an actual idea of it, and what art reflects it also helps create. The fail condition of subversion/parody is reification. We have laughed Zapp Brannigan right into the White House.

There’s a fascinating contemplation over what’s worth forgetting but ultimately the author makes the case for the importance of a diverse memory:

If history is written by the winners, then people with power will always be the ones who control what is remembered, and marginal people’s truths and histories will be what is occluded. It is thus now. We cannot live without memory (and to do so would be to live without meaning). Given this, it becomes a question of what survives.

  • Reminiscent of Lonelygirl15, That Poppy is very Gibsonesque. Welcome to Poppy’s World.
  • Revenge of the lunch lady, a fantastic long read of “how an unassuming bureaucrat outsmarted Jamie Oliver and pulled off an honest-to-god miracle in one of America’s unhealthiest cities.”

What happens to older programmers? and other questions on Quora

Quora: What happens to older programmers? Some become managers, many keep coding, the answers are pretty good. Keep in mind that there’s hardly been many old programmers yet.

As an aside, I find Quora questions fascinating. The questions run from the practical to the existential (what’s the point of life?) to the polemic (don’t good programmers use ‘else’?; will PHP die out in 2017?).

There’s something both startling and amusing when someone asks: what are the best gems to be used with Ruby on Rails for a dating / social network website? — and receives candid answers! I appreciate the specificity, but that’s baldly a bold ask.

I suppose what’s most fascinating is what the questions say about us.

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