Interesting articles, videos and other tidbits from around the web.
Paul Simon explains how he wrote Bridge Over Troubled Water and Mrs. Robinson.
I like this line:
Everywhere I went, led me where I didn’t wanna be, so I was stuck.
Over at A List Apart Matt E. Patterson describes HTML-over-WebSockets:
What about multi-user chat? Or document collaboration? In classic frameworks and SPAs, these are the features we put off because of their difficulty and the code acrobatics needed to keep everyone’s states aligned. With HTML-over-the-wire, we’re just pushing tiny bits of HTML based on one user’s changes to every other user currently subscribed to the channel. They’ll see exactly the same thing as if they hit refresh and asked the server for the entire HTML page anew. And you can get those bits to every user in under 30ms.
Most interesting tech article I’ve read in a while.
And Phoenix with LiveViews:
China expert Michael Schuman describing his disappointment with where China is headed:
Xi’s vision for “a community with a shared future,” as he calls it, is like a neighborhood where a man beats his wife every night, but anyone who tries to help her is “intervening in his internal affairs.” In order to show you are not “prejudiced,” you invite the guy over for pool parties, and smile as if nothing’s wrong. Maybe he’ll bring you a few beers. That’s how Xi defines “mutual respect.”
Paul Horowitz describes on OSXDaily how to add currency exchange rates to the iOS stock app:
All you need to do is search for a ticker symbol containing the two currencies,
USDEUR=X, for example.
In the four years since the article was published macOS has gained support for Stocks as well and you can show the exchange rate in a notification center widget.
Every Chinese New Year, Apple commissions a short film.
This year it’s about the mythical Nian. Wikipedia explains:
Once every year at the beginning of Chinese New Year, the nian comes out of its hiding place to feed, mostly on men and animals. During winter, since food is sparse, he would go to the village. He would eat the crops and sometimes the villagers, mostly children. […] The weaknesses of the nian are purported to be a sensitivity to loud noises, fire, and a fear of the color red.
Hence the fireworks, noises and the red color everywhere. I remember riding my bike through Shanghai on Chinese New Year with things exploding left and right. It felt like crossing a battlefield.
Here’s the making-of video to the short film with director Lulu Wang and colleagues touting the iPhone 12 Pro Max as a cinema camera:
DER SPIEGEL correspondent Bernhard Zand:
Deep in Siberia, at the same latitude as Hamburg, China begins. It only comes to an end some 4,000 kilometers away, on the beaches of the tropical island Hainan. Both are places of great beauty.
In the north, the Heilongjiang, the Black Dragon river, winds silently eastward. It marks the border to Russia, where it is known as the Amur. The pine forests of the Taiga stretch out behind it.
In the south, the surf of the South China Sea gently rolls into Hainan’s Yalong Bay. Plane and palm trees line the coast and children frolic on the beach. Hainan is often called “the Hawaii of China.”
In between lies a country about the size of the United States, but with four times as many people – twice as many as in Europe, more than in Africa.
Before leaving mainland China for Hong Kong, Zand once again travels the vast country.
He wants to understand how Xi Jinping has shaped China in the past eight years. Eight years, in which Zand had been living in China, eight years that Xi Jinping has been president.
Bert Hubert dives into the source code of the BioNTech/Pfizer SARS-CoV-2 vaccine:
The code of the vaccine starts with the following two nucleotides:
This can be compared very much to every DOS and Windows executable starting with MZ, or UNIX scripts starting with
#!. In both life and operating systems, these two characters are not executed in any way. But they have to be there because otherwise nothing happens.
It’s absolutely fascinating how we’re just a combination of myriads of little biological computers.
For VnExpress Phan Anh retraced how Vietnam successfully contained the Coronavirus in the first and second wave. It all started way before other countries realized what was going on:
Despite its best preventive efforts, Vietnam recorded its first Covid-19 cases on January 23 in HCMC: two Chinese nationals, a father and a son, who were quarantined at Cho Ray Hospital after testing positive.
Immediately afterward, on January 24, Vietnam suspended all flights from and to Wuhan despite the World Health Organization (WHO) saying there was no need for widespread travel bans at that point in time.
More flight suspensions followed in the days after that as more cases sprouted up until finally flights to China were completely stopped on February 1.
“What’s the danger with Vietnam’s motorcycle helmets?”, asks Govi Snell in the Southeast Asia Globe.
“What isn’t?”, I would reply.
But it’s not that easy. From the article:
Vietnam’s first helmet law, which passed in 2001, required motorcycle drivers to wear helmets on specific roadways. With limited enforcement of this legislation, the use of helmets was estimated at 30%. In June 2007, the government passed a decree that made it mandatory for all motorcycle drivers to wear a helmet on all roads from December of that year. With the law in place, helmet-wearing reached 90%.
Wearing helmets has been mandatory for less than 15 years.
Dr. Pham Viet Cuong, the head of the department on public health informatics at the Hanoi University of Public Health is quoted:
“When helmet-wearing reached 90%, we thought it was a great success and everyone thought that it would help to reduce the number of brain injuries and deaths initially. But after a couple of years, we didn’t see that happening,” he said. “We did a lot of studies and looked at a lot of issues and we saw the problem of unstandardised or low-quality helmets.”
It seems to me, that Vietnamese only wear helmets to avoid being fined, not because they value their head. When I refuse to take friends without helmet on my bike they would often argue that there’s no police around. And when they wear helmets, they choose tiny ones, that might only protect you from a rock falling from the sky. And they seldomly tighten the strap, reducing the already slim protection even further.
What I understand even less than Vietnamese wearing these helmets – they grew up here and everyone around them is wearing them as well – is that many foreigners go with them as well. As if everything our societies have learned doesn’t apply anymore. (Not buckling up in taxis is the same story.) As if the laws of physics would not apply in another country.
Nicholson Baker writing for the New York Magazine:
What happened was fairly simple, I’ve come to believe. It was an accident. A virus spent some time in a laboratory, and eventually it got out. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, began its existence inside a bat, then it learned how to infect people in a claustrophobic mine shaft, and then it was made more infectious in one or more laboratories, perhaps as part of a scientist’s well-intentioned but risky effort to create a broad-spectrum vaccine. SARS-2 was not designed as a biological weapon. But it was, I think, designed.
He explains how scientists could make a virus infecting mice mutate to now infect hamsters:
They did it using serial passaging: repeatedly dosing a mixed solution of mouse cells and hamster cells with mouse-hepatitis virus, while each time decreasing the number of mouse cells and upping the concentration of hamster cells. At first, predictably, the mouse-hepatitis virus couldn’t do much with the hamster cells, which were left almost free of infection, floating in their world of fetal-calf serum. But by the end of the experiment, after dozens of passages through cell cultures, the virus had mutated: It had mastered the trick of parasitizing an unfamiliar rodent. A scourge of mice was transformed into a scourge of hamsters.
Read the article, make up your own mind.
Former Evernote CEO Phil Libin shares his simple but elegant model of tracking (and converting) different user types.
Also interesting are his remarks about how to create a well aligned business model.
When a promoter booked the rock band Van Halen they needed to provide a bowl of M&Ms, having all brown ones sorted out.
As lead singer David Lee Roth explained in a 2012 interview, the bowl of M&Ms was an indicator of whether the concert promoter had actually read the band’s complicated contract.
“Van Halen was the first to take 850 par lamp lights — huge lights — around the country,” Roth said. “At the time, it was the biggest production ever.” In many cases, the venues were too outdated or inadequately prepared to set up the band’s sophisticated stage.
“If I came backstage, having been one of the architects of this lighting and staging design, and I saw brown M&Ms on the catering table, then I guarantee the promoter had not read the contract rider, and we would have to do a serious line check” of the entire stage setup, Roth said.
John Pasden at Sinosplice shares this cute conversation between a bilingual kid in the US and a Chinese adult:
Adult: What do you most like doing with your family?
The key to understanding this exchange is knowing that 做 (zuò), the verb meaning “to do,” sounds identical to the verb 坐 (zuò), which means “to sit.” Add into this that many verbs in Chinese don’t require an additional preposition like their English counterparts (for example, we’d say “sit on” rather than just “sit”), and the child’s answer starts to make a lot of sense.
Great example of the challenges understanding spoken Chinese. Using characters this mixup could never happen.
Then enter Vietnamese, where even in the written language everything looks the same:
Chào em = Hello
Cháo em = You porridge