Tag Archives: technology

Open News

Advancing Food Technology for a Sustainable Future

I’ve written often on the intersection between food and technology.

To me, it’s a fascinating view on how technology can better the most fundamental need of our human existence: the lowest of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the need for subsistence on a material level.

The World Health Organization has consistently maintained that there is enough food for the entire human population—we just suffer from an uneven distribution of food. While the common refrain about a child dying from hunger every x seconds can be a bit misleading, the reality is that there are millions of children who suffer from malnutrition, and who will die because of it.

It’s clear that in an age where climate change threatens to unsettle the delicate balance between farmer and field, one area of concern will be how to feed ourselves, given the struggles we currently have to do just that for an unfortunate many.

Will we create a more sustainable future through the increase of the use of chemicals, the altering of the genetic code of foodstuffs, or a return to organic farming?

These are open questions. I recently wrote a profile on Montreal’s Provender for Techvibes, a network that connects farmers with restaurants, and one of their founders, Cai certainly has interesting thoughts on the matter of food technology.

Their solution aims to make it easier to reduce food waste by communicating from farm-to-fork, allowing for restaurants to “claim” crops, shortening the sales cycle, and creating value by providing fresher crops, and reducing food waste along the entire cycle.

By collecting data from farmers in the area about their crops and the conditions they are undergoing, they are aiming to create an API that will allow for data-driven decisions across entire areas. It is food technology at its best, better defining the data around the world to create a more sustainable future.

food technology with code(love)

food technology with code(love)

Cai has recently come up with the Grow Food Tech initiative—trying to spark a conversation about exactly how technology can help grow food sustainability. I hope it succeeds, and that you’ll be a part of the discussion.

Open Stories

An insider perspective on working in technology.

Working in technology can obviously mean a lot of different things, from building better jet engines to the kind of tech that we do at Engagement Labs, which is creating “intelligence” from data.

That’s always challenging, since intelligence is not easy to come by.

The exciting part of working in this area of tech, is that with the right analysis and a novel perspective we can have an immediate impact on a client’s success. I’ve worked in several other, older industries (i.e. pharma, airlines) and what I can say is that the wheel definitely spins faster than in tech companies.

If you’re passionate about the sector you’re in and love the opportunity to create new and innovative products or the branding and marketing behind them, there’s nothing better.

However, it’s important to note that it can get intense, especially if you’re a startup. Direct competitors or products can spring up at a moment’s notice, so you have to always be on your toes. Chances are you’ll rarely get bored. For me, and most us at Engagement Labs, we are most excited about the power of tech to drive creativity and problem-solving. We’ve seen it time and time again, technology done right, can change the lives millions (sometimes billions) of people.


Thanks to Jordan Stotland of Engagement Labs for the insider story on what it feels like working for a startup. If you want your story on code(love), email us at [email protected].

Technology and Society

It’s time to build a better web.

“Revealing the previously unfathomable reach of U.S. spies has led, for the first time since 9/11, to Americans saying they are more worried about civil liberties abuses than terrorism.

Thank you Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, William Binney, Laura Poitras, Chelsea Manning, and so many others.

The Constitution of the United States begins with the three words that shook the world, and continues to write out its legacy throughout: “We the people”.

Faced with one of the greatest gifts for scientific innovation, and sustainable creation—an open and free web—the governments of the world have collectively failed where the people can succeed.

It’s time to stop venting about outrage after outrage—and time to take action. It starts with one click below. Protect yourself, and declare you belief in the transformative potential of an open, free web dedicated to a better world.

It is time to rebuild the web into what it always should have been: a place where the artist could build with the dissident who could build with the scientist—openly, and freely.

Reset the Net with code(love)

Defining the Future

The Future of Advice: Filtered, Real-Time, On-Demand.

This is a short excerpt of Build, a book on several extraordinary entrepreneurs and technologists building the future, and what they’ve learned doing so.

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Sometimes, for a given problem, there are only a handful of people who have exactly the right advice. In a networked world where information can be spread effortlessly, the problem isn’t access to information: it is the filter to what solves your problem, and what doesn’t that really matters.

Dan Martell of Clarity.FM aims to be that filter. His platform allows you to instantly access  the individual you need who has lived through your problems before you. Imagine a real-time Jeopardy call-your-friend function, if your friends were million-dollar entrepreneurs, and billion-dollar investors.

Welcome to the future of advice.

It looks a lot like a curated index of experts that are ready to answer your questions for a nominal fee, on-demand—and that’s because that’s what it has to be. Nowadays, to collect opinions is almost trivial. Posting a link anywhere is an open invitation for many on the web to openly question your sanity, and plenty more.

What most people need now is not information—there is too much of that around. What they need is qualified advice: communication that has more barriers than Yahoo Answers, in other words. People will spend immense amounts of time and effort to find those qualified answers, because quality matters more than quantity.

This can be seen in the success of Quora—which has managed to gather a community of very intelligent and connected contributors, who more often than not, know exactly what it is like to work with Elon Musk or Sergey Brin—because they are working with them right now.

The future of advice-giving to Dan isn’t about making it easier for advisor and advisee to connect with one another: it’s about creating a level of friction so that both sides know exactly what they’re getting into, and both sides know exactly how much they’d be willing to give up to meet one another.

The future of advice-giving isn’t about making it easier for advisor and advisee to connect with one another: it’s about creating a level of friction so that both sides know exactly what they’re getting into, and both sides know exactly how much they’d be willing to give up to meet one another.

Open News

Bootstrap Love

Open News is a new section of code(love) dedicated to announcing resources that will help entrepreneurs, cool new technologies, or open-source/open-data applications that will change the world with no dollar signs attached. 
If you think this is a good outlet for your story, email us at [email protected].
bsl-logo-sm (2)

Bootstrap Love with code(love) 

Bootstrap Love is a new initiative by Montreal marketing agency Brendan & Brendan to help provide bootstrapped startups with the essentials of startup marketing they’ll need to help grow their ideas.

“Sometimes all an early stage company needs is a one off item. We think of it as a sort of pit stop for the self-funded business”, said Beth Thouin of Brendan & Brendan.

It covers the whole host of essentials any startup needs to get its’ foot in the door of early users, press members, and investors: from PR kits, to good blog content.

Check it out!

Longform Reflections

I rejected a top law school for tech entrepreneurship—here’s why.

I have thought about this long and hard, and law school isn’t for me.

I have a firm belief that in our new digital economy, those who are able to scale their ideas most effectively will triumph. Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape once said: “Software is eating the world”. My corollary to this statement is that “the geek shall inherit the Earth.”

The geek shall inherit the Earth.

From hospitality, to transportation, we live in a world where minute connections of individuals can actually change the world for the better—within a span of months, rather than decades.

Technology has accelerated both the potential for good, and for bad, but as a catalyst the effects are undeniable. From sidestepping the conventional financial system, to underpinning the democratic aspirations of a people, the ability to communicate frictionlessly has fundamentally changed what we view as possible.

Download / By Namphuong Van

Changing the possible with code(love)

While I appreciate the value a law school education holds for those who want to learn and practice law, I no longer think that is my true calling. Having talked with multiple lawyers, I have come to the conclusion that the impact I can have is best served by scaling my aspirations, and those of others throughout the digital realm, rather than through slogging it out one jurisdiction at a time.

I hold a high amount of respect for those who fight the good fight throughout legal and political channels: society has a need for this. I just don’t see myself being as effective at that as I can be with digital engagement.

My feeling in the startup scene is one akin to coming home.

I have advised on several ventures that have the potential to grow into something beautiful and meaningful not only from a monetary sense, but from a societal one as well.

When I sit down to talk with people, it’s about creating a secure communications platform for doctors and underserved patients in rural Bangladesh, or about tackling urban homelessness through a crowdfunding solution—these are not only realizable, but people are working on these right now. It is liberating to be able to talk about these issues, and see action straight away that helps chip away at some of the biggest problems this world faces—all of this in a matter of days, rather than years.

This isn’t only a passion-borne argument. Fundamentally, I believe working in technology is a more rational decision for me than working in law.

Fundamentally, I believe working in technology is a more rational decision for me than working in law.

Download / By Marco sama

Rejecting Law School with code(love)

I am motivated by three things in life: knowledge, impact, and love. It is only in technology that I have found all three—and it is only in technology where my passion can be translated into tangible, and material well-being. While I believe the current valuation bubble will burst, leaving true technologists behind to pick up the pieces, the truth is Silicon Valley is on the upswing, while Wall Street and Main Street is on the downswing.

With the doubtful legal market in Canada and the United States, and the overwhelming need for engineers across both sides of the border, I think I am better suited to learn outside of school, or to pursue a formalized degree in computer science (an option I have not precluded) for the age we live in.

I’d rather fight it out getting paid to gain experience rather than taking on debt for experience for a field I’d rather not be in. I have always been more of a kinetic learner, someone who learns by doing. I cannot afford either the time nor the money that would be invested in learning less efficiently otherwise, and this has been made even clearer in the last few weeks than all of the preceding year.

I’d rather fight it out getting paid to gain experience rather than taking on debt for experience for a field I’d rather not be in.

I love what I do, and I know what I am fighting for. The next following days will determine where I will head, but I feel that I can preclude law school, even though I recognize it is a great opportunity.

This is not a choice I made lightly, but it is something I have to do to move towards the love, knowledge, and impact I believe I can have. I hope you can understand.

Meaningful Multimedia

Remembering Aaron Swartz

To those of us who aspire to the ideals of the Open Web, Aaron Swartz is a hero. His legacy and his part in the fight against SOPA/PIPA still mark how modern technologists should not only build new technologies, but ensure, to the best of their abilities, that they are not used for nefarious purposes.

Aaron Swartz with code(love)

Aaron Swartz with code(love)

He had a hand in reddit, the Creative Commons, and so much more. Despite the fact that he had enough programming skill to make himself a fortune, he decided a better pursuit was to use  his skills, and the power of the web, to help make the world a better and fairer place.

Aaron Swartz worked hard for what he thought was right, and he constantly sought to learn, and grow—and to help others learn and grow.

His Open Access Manifesto is still widely spread around the web as a call-to-action to those who believe that information should be freer, and that the future of technology, progress, and innovation should tilt more towards cooperation rather than pure competition.

“Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves.

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.” –Aaron Swartz, Open Access Manifesto

This video is a good look at his life and legacy, and the promise of what could have been—and what still can be.

More details on the documentary on Aaron Swartz can be found here. There are not too many details, but hopefully the whole film gets released soon.

Technology and Society

The Economics of Tesla Direct Sales


This is a guest contribution from Sharon of americasstartup.com.
America's Startup

America’s Startup

Check out her Tumblr at americasstartup.tumblr.com.


When I first heard that states were not allowing Tesla into the market because of their direct sales business model, my first reaction was – “whaaaaat?!” Now after some research and a re-visit of the
economics theories I learned in my UCLA days, my (now educated) reaction is –“whaaaaat?!”

To those who may not understand the situation, a quick introduction– In recent news, New Jersey banned Tesla from selling its cars directly to the consumer. One may think, that’s one state, no big deal. But it’s not just one state, it’s another state, and there’s the fear of a ripple effect with New York and Ohio possibly going in the same direction as New Jersey.

The history behind the legislation of no direct sales to the consumer within the automotive industry dates back to the mass production of cars aka back to Ford. At that time the economic model
concerning dealerships made sense from both the manufacturers’ and the consumer perspective.

It’s no secret that the automotive industry has some of the highest fixed costs in regards to manufacturing.

Tesla Direct Sales Economics with code(love) from University of Regina

Tesla Direct Sales Economics with code(love) from University of Regina

Historically – a manufacturer’s perspective

It’s no secret that the automotive industry has some of the highest fixed costs in regards to manufacturing. Due to this fact, manufacturing is usually isolated to distant areas in order to drive volume (maximize factory utilization) and maximize economies of scale. One problem is solved: the per-unit cost of each manufactured
car reaches its minimum – but new problems arise.

Firstly, there is a cash flow issue. The necessary investment needed to produce the cars (cash out) and the lead-time to which the cars are sold (cash in) easily results in illiquidity without a middleman digesting the inventory in the short term.

Secondly, if the element of time is included in the normal demand and supply curves it is understandable that the delay in sales to consumers (demand) does not match the rate to which the
cars are manufactured, resulting in large stocks of inventory, which requires storage, an additional cost to the manufacturer.

Today – The Internet’s effect on industry and Tesla direct sales

Of course certain elements to the automotive industry remain the same, i.e. capital-intensive investment. However, that being said, Tesla has a different business model that threatens to challenge and disrupt this, a Dell for the automotive industry.

At the time of what is now being called the “Great Recession”, I was working on Wall Street in a bulge bracket investment bank and I understood quite clearly the factors that led to this massive balance sheet correction and re-adjustment in asset pricing.  I am not arguing that the automotive industry caused the recession; however, I bring it up as a relevant point because of the massive amount of inventory that could not be sold on the dealership level when the economy crashed.

This was an operational disaster when demand shriveled to zero and the lead-time to halt the supply to the market resulted
in the need for government bail out. Fundamentally, the dealership business model is an economic inefficiency and was used at the time as a Band-Aid to facilitate mass production. But we are no longer living in the 1800s. With the easy access to information, the Internet has changed the landscape of B2C interactions.

We are no longer living in the 1800s. With the easy access to information, the Internet has changed the landscape of B2C interactions.

A “consumer’s” perspective according to the Middleman

The economic rationale for the middleman has always been the consumer’s protection from monopolistic pricing. To truly understand this point it’s important to understand the economics of a car dealership. There are two main revenue drivers within a franchised dealership, 1) the mark-up in price for service and parts and 2) mark-up in price for the car. Now consider the costs related to a dealership, there is the physical location, the labor, the overhead, the marketing and publicity, etc. All of which is paid by the mark-up.

Although slightly dated, Goldman Sachs put out a research report in 2000 regarding, savings in the “vehicle order-to-delivery cycle from build-to-order, direct manufacturer sales.” Based on an average vehicle price of $26,000, Goldman Sachs estimated a total cost savings in the order-to-delivery cycle of $2,225 or about 8.6%. Since 2000, GM has experienced great production efficiencies in its direct manufacturing sales in Brazil that also proves an interesting point in light of this topic. At the end of the day, the underlying economic principle is the consumer loses when there is a middleman.

Why would the dealership lobby their butts off to keep the status quo? I would argue  – survival. Let’s think another startup—Dell. Although Apple ultimately changed the nature of the
computing demands of the World, Dell’s just-in-time model was a huge disruptor to the market that ultimately led to lower prices for the consumer, customization, and contributed to the demise of its
middleman Circuit City and Best Buy.

Tesla Direct Sales with code(love)

Tesla Direct Sales with code(love)

Concluding Remarks

Two hundred years ago Tesla direct sales to the consumer would not be possible because of limitations to technology and information. But now we have the Internet.

Technology has been the single greatest contributing factor of GDP growth within the developed world. We have seen this transformation before. My older sister bought CDs at the music store when she was young,  but now she buys music online. Before computers were bought only at Circuit City and Best Buy, now computers are bought online.

In The Post, Buchwald was quoted as saying, “We shouldn’t change the rules midstream just as a company is starting out. Tesla’s goal is to sell cars, not upend the rest of the auto industry.” To this, I say maybe it is time to ” upend the rest of the auto industry.”

I support the American Dream. I support entrepreneurs. I support Tesla being able to make direct sales to consumers.

I support the American Dream. I support entrepreneurs. I support Tesla being able to make direct sales to consumers.

Founder | Producer of America’s Startup, LLC


Longform Reflections

An Open Email to the NSA (CC Supreme Court)

Dear NSA,

Twenty years ago, you would have had the pleasure of receiving this in a nice white envelope, but now we know worse. I’m sending this to you virtually, as many of us will, because it only me one click of a button to do so.

We know worse: a large number of us have chosen to sacrifice privacy for convenience or vanity, and I am no exception. I post everything from the most banal to the most profound about myself online. If someone were so inclined, they could build a pretty complete sketch of who I am from the different digital portraits I have constructed over the ages.

I have also connected with more people than ever online. Studies will show that this probably makes me more stressed, and more narcissistic. I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that the number of connections I and everyone around me have make it increasingly likely that our digital metadata will be snagged into your watching eyes.

Using a nifty digital application, also one click of a button away, I’ve ascertained that if anybody in my network of 22 million friends of friends…of friends is up to something potentially nefarious, you could come knocking. That’s if I was American. As a Canadian, I don’t even get this courtesy before you share the data with my domestic security agency.

It’s a funny thing when you make laws that protect only domestic citizens, because everybody is a foreigner somewhere. I wonder if the GCHQ in Britain, with which you are closely collaborating with, have the same respect for the privacy of Americans as you espouse when they are rifling through Gmail for you.

Five Eyes with code(love)

Five Eyes with code(love)

Perhaps, however, your intent is benign. After all, you are balanced by law that binds you only to search for metadata: the fact that you can’t rifle through the actual data should count for something right?

I work in technology. I’m keenly aware of how metadata can be used to trace connections between people, their location, and their habits. It’s perhaps why you and a million other companies are finding it valuable to scoop out this data.

The same technology that allows us to hail cabs at the push of a button, can also be used to track us within meters. If I were to go to an abortion clinic, or a therapist, my parents might not know, but you will.

The connections between me the peers I choose to connect with most frequently can also be equally revelatory. They can reveal the organization I work for, but also my political affiliation or sexual orientation, even if I have not revealed them to anybody.

NSA Listens with code(love)

NSA listens with code(love)

You may ask why we care less if Google has our data but not you.

Until Google gets the robot army they are seeking to build, and has the power to imprison me by force, me and many others will care, but care less that Google has that information about us.

Google buys robot firm Boston Dynamics. ruh roh

You may ask why we should care about this metadata being revealed about ourselves.

The first reason would be because as we relax privacy constraints around all of our information, it is highly possible that financial information, and health information will fall into your hands as well: this has already happened to a certain degree.

The second reason is because you have a history of tracking notable political and business figures for reasons that do not correlate well with national security. In fact, your sister agency, the FBI, often still tracks people for their political beliefs.

The third reason is because, with lax oversight, your propensity to lie to elected representatives, and consequently to the American people, makes you a hard agency to trust with anything.

These are harsh truths, but the American nation was built on these truths. And one overriding truth is the following: absolute power corrupts absolutely. While it is far from me to suggest that you have absolute power at the moment, it is certain that your agency could help somebody obtain it, and it is certain that right now, you are playing around the lines of a balance of powers that has served the American people well for centuries.

“[If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A.] could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.

-Senator Church of the Church Committee

You may ask why it matters if you are authorized by elected representatives to do what you do, even barring how unclear that is given how legislation has been warped to fit your needs.

On this, we do have an agreement of sorts. I do think it sad that security has come to override every other concern, and perhaps it is right that America needs a change in her elected officials if they have allowed you to get away with this. However, I also do know that you are being sly on this point. Consider your interpretation of Patriot Act Section 215 and how you have overstepped it.

So I write this in the open spirit you have abandoned for the American people: please consider reining yourself in. We live in a new age, and there should be new rules.

We live in a new age, and there should be new rules.

If you ignore this advice, I have kindly CCed your friends at the Supreme Court. I am sure they have much more to say on this than I do.

Sincerely yours,

(Well, you can probably figure out who)


For a look at how the Supreme Court might respond, click here.

Longform Reflections

The Supreme Court on Digital Privacy

In a talk at Harvard Law School, Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer summarized the “mechanistic” formula the Supreme Court uses to determine which cases it rules upon: the case has to pose a important legal question with federal implications that different federal courts have inconsistently ruled on, with differing opinions on the same issue.

With the recent ruling of Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia that decried NSA surveillance programs as “almost Orwellian” and most likely violating the Constitution, and another ruling from Federal Judge William Pauley that declared the NSA programs essential on the war on terror, and therefore legal, the path towards the Supreme Court is now clearer than ever. The Department of Justice is appealing Judge Leon’s anti-surveillance ruling, while the ACLU is appealing Judge Pauley’s pro-surveillance ruling.

The likelihood of yet another landmark Supreme Court case on par with New York Times Co. v. United States—-when the Supreme Court ruled that the New York Times could reveal the classified Pentagon Papers which bluntly laid out how the government had lied to the public about the Vietnam War—-has never been higher. Daniel Ellsberg has often been compared to Edward Snowden. He boldly announced “there has been no more significant disclosure in the history of our country” than those of Edward Snowden—including his own leak of the Pentagon Papers. If a ruling on the matter from the Supreme Court is forthcoming, he will be proved right.

“There has been no more significant disclosure in the history of our country.”—Daniel Ellsberg on Edward Snowden

While President Obama has rejected most of the substantive findings of his own commission on the NSA—mostly maintaining the status quo on privacy in the digital age—if there is a privacy-affirming ruling from the Supreme Court, subsequent legislative action may also follow from Congress, reining in the powers of the NSA to collect and analyze large amounts of digital metadata. It will be one of the most significant rulings in modern legal history, and the definitive opinion that will shape privacy in the digital age.

The Importance of Privacy with code(love)

The Importance of Privacy with code(love)

Is such a ruling even possible?

Let us consider the simplifying rubric of liberals and conservatives for dividing the justices. This is something that the justices themselves do not like, and one that often falls to the wayside on a myriad of different issues, but it is a good rubric for an overview for this case. Let us also assume that the Supreme Court will accept the duty of considering this issue.

The liberal justices would consist of Associate Justices Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, all appointed by Democrat presidents Clinton and Obama.

The conservative justices would consist of Chief Justice Roberts appointed by Republican president George W. Bush, and Associate Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, appointed by Republican presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush.

The liberal justices voted as a bloc together in CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE, ET AL. v. AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL USA ET AL. to try to challenge the constitutionality of warrantless wiretaps, and one should expect much the same from them in any future case.

Of the conservative justices, Roberts, has a tendency to try to attempt home-run majority rulings for his legacy of being a “by-the-rules” arbitrator—-the most notable case being his majority opinion upholding Obamacare. His pronouncement of privacy as being the paramount constitutional issue facing the Supreme Court would seem to define him as the most likely conservative justice to deliver an opinion with the liberal justices. With that said, his previous defense and work on behalf of controversial Supreme Court nominee Bork—-whose originalist theory of the Constitution claimed a lack of basis for a constitutional right to privacy—-may indicate otherwise.

Justice Kennedy—the typical swing vote for landmark rulings—cannot be counted on when it comes to privacy issues. His majority opinion on Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives granted a “special needs” exemption that allowed the Fourth Amendment to be ignored if it was deemed to be in the overriding interest of public safety. This is the basis of the NSA’s metadata collection program.

Justice Alito subscribes to a mosaic theory of privacy that argues that a search is a collection of aggregated actions: so, while use of a GPS device to track a vehicle in one case may not be construed as a “search” under the Constitution, the long-term of use of said GPS device could be considered a “search”. This would seem rather favorable to Justice Alito’s tendency for a pro-privacy ruling, given what we know about the metadata collection capabilities of our phones, which can track our location within meters for months or years.

However, Justice Alito also shows a strong deference to executive power, and national security agencies, part of the reason why President George W. Bush had him confirmed in the first place. While working for President Reagan’s Justice Department, he argued that the attorney general should be immune from prosecution for wiretapping Americans.

Justice Thomas and Scalia agree with Justice Alito on this point: all three share an ideological bent that presupposes that the “national security agencies” know best for the nation’s security, and should therefore not be overly constrained. Justice Scalia has also called a general constitutional right to privacy “blah, blah, blah, garbage.”

“Blah, blah, blah, garbage.”—Justice Scalia on a general right to privacy in the Constitution.

The votes might be there. It probably hinges on Justice Roberts, or maybe Justice Alito. Significant legislative and judicial changes to how the American government deals with privacy issues could happen within a couple of years. We could see national security agencies that are more accountable and transparent to the people they are serving.

Barring that, the discussion sparked from a transparent argument in an open court of law about privacy issues will bring much reason and thought on a topic that is critical to all of us in our new digital age. To quote Justice Brandeis, a historical giant of the Supreme Court, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants”.