Crypto nonsense, x-ray time-lapses, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#47)

Pretty busy week (this post was not published at its common time, in fact), but some cool links to share. Christmas is coming!

Hats hats hats vs NFTs and crypto

Companies love money, and videogames industry is particularly greedy. They were one of the first industries to switch to digital (probably we are in the last console generation with non-digital versions of their games, and pc left that support years ago with Steam), and they have been introducing new tech to create new experiences since… forever.

Now, we are entering the world of digital currencies (crypto) and NFTs, and of course many developers are trying to grab some cash in a fast way. The funny thing is that all the crypto-based games are terrible, and nothing in the gameplay really depends on that characteristic (you could do the same without tokens, NFTs, and burning trees and thousands of € in the process). As far as I am concerned, the only purpose of those products is to scam people who think they will be able to get rich by playing. This feeling is also reinforced when you look at big companies that are behind this trend, which are the greediest ones the community has ever dealt with.

On the other hand, it is always interesting to see this kind of trend, and online economies is a topic that always amazed me. World of Warcraft, Eve Online, and my favourite: the hatconomy from Team Fortress 2 (super cool video about the market crash, below).

Blockchain in Gaming Is all the Rage for No Good Reason, on bloomberg

~homemade X-ray videos?

Cool article on hackaday about an amazing project to get timelapse images using x-rays. While being homemade, is not something that you can really try to do at home without years of experience in the field. However, watching how the vascular system of plants works is quite impressive:

Observing A Plant’s Vascular System With X-Ray Video, on hackaday

X-ray timelapse of fluid movement in plants, stop-motion animation, sensor teardown/repair, on the Ben Krasnow blog

What Science-Fiction tells us about the present

Having grown reading lots of sci-fi (which is actually something I still enjoy doing), hearing about what writers think the future will bring is always quite thought evoking. During the past century, many authors explored the topics of tech evolution (computation, internet, advances in medicine, space travel, etc.) and how those could shape society. Seems that nowadays the topics are shifting towards how are we going to destroy the planet (doh!). Still, the article from was super cool.

Sci-Fi vs Science: How Authors View the Greatest Scientific Challenges of Our Time, on

Another crypto stupidity

Probably my favourite news of the week. It is always super funny to see how greed makes people do stupid things, and even better when they get scammed in the process. Quick recap: a lot of cryptobros did a crowfund to buy a copy of the US constitution. They did not win the auction, but now they cannot get a refund because crypto fees are so high that the costs are basically the same as the average amount people invested. Also, the people that created the platform (which in principle only existed to buy the constitution) have been managing the whole thing in the dark, without letting others in the community decide the next steps. By the way, being managed by voting between members is exactly how a DAO, which stands for Decentralized Autonomous Organization, should work. Hilarious.

‘Buy the Constitution’ Aftermath: Everyone Very Mad, Confused, Losing Lots of Money, Fighting, Crying, Etc., on vice

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

Blah, blah, blah; Bezosism moves, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#46)

Super interesting news this week. The Climate Change Conference ended and it kinda sucked (as expected). Amazon keeps screwing around (as expected). The metaverse is coming, and its start is not really impressive (as expected). On the bright side, a couple really cool articles on eyeglasses and the press. Let’s start:

The invisible tech

Good designs merge with the environment and effectively disappear, so you do not even notice they are there. This is true in almost all the branches of design, whether it be architecture, decoration, or software. For me, one perfect example are eyeglasses. I depend on them to see accurately (suffering from both myopia and astigmatism), but most of the time I forget they are there. I am so used to them that even when I am not wearing them, I keep trying to fix their position (like a phantom limb). Also, the moment my glasses do not exactly correct my eyes aberrations, I instantly notice they are not working ‘right’.

This week I found this article by the folks at hackaday talking about the design of lenses, and also a bit about their history. Quite a good read.

Tech In Plain Sight: Eyeglasses, on hackaday

The metaverse is coming for you

Whether you like it or not, the metaverse is something you are gonna read about from now on. Everywhere. So I will try to filter a lot of stuff, but keep the interesting news around. The first one is about some nice piece of hardware that lets you feel touch in your VR sessions. It is not the first device I see doing this (the idea is actually pretty old), but it is coming from a company with infinite resources, so it is always cool to take a look at what they are developing, and where will they be able to end.

The second one is a cool piece on the current state of Facebook’s metaverse. What can you do, how does it work, and what could be the next steps in the platform. Not a big fan of the company, but they have positioned themselves pretty good and thus there are many chances that their vision will lead the industry for quite some time.

Meta’s sci-fi haptic glove prototype lets you feel VR objects using air pockets, on the verge

I Spent 24 Hours in the Metaverse. I Made Friends, Did Work and Panicked About the Future., on the Wall Street Journal

Some news are better when read together

Imagine this: you run one of the most powerful companies in the world. You win billions, sell stuff all over the globe, develop new products, buy other companies, you even go to space. This is the life of Bezos. However, you really do not care about how you achieve all of this. I previously posted about how Amazon workers are treated, using algorithms to track their performance and firing them if they are not efficient enough (with a totally arbitrary definition of ‘efficiency’). However, it seems that all this tracking is unable to tell you if some of your co-workers got infected with Covid. How could this happen? Well, take a look at the second article and you might see a trend: they only care about making money. All the data they acquire is getting used to improve their margins by training algorithms which increase sells on their store. They know what you search (and they manipulate the search results to show their own products first). They know what music you listen to (Amazon music), and also the movies and streams you like (Prime and Twitch). They even know what you speak about at home (Alexa). Respecting your privacy does not increase revenue. Neither caring for the health of their workers.

Amazon fined $500,000 for failing to notify California workers about COVID-19 cases, on the verge

Amazon’s Dark Secret: It Has Failed to Protect Your Data, on wired

Another one bites the dust

Are you ready for this? Are you hanging on the edge of your seat? Another Climate Change Conference bites the dust. And another one gone, and another one gone. Another one bites the dust.

Now seriously (the topic deserves it). Even with flawed data that pictures a prettier world than the real one (see the following links), we cannot seem to realise that the price of not stopping global warming will be infinite orders of magnitude higher than the route we are taking right now. Empty words (blah, blah, blah), actions that talk about reducing (and not stopping the use of) fossil fuels, and very naive proposals that risk the future generations.

It seems to me that there are only three ways of solving this problem. Either we go extinct and the planet heals over time, capitalism as we know it disappears (good luck with that), or science makes it that green energy is cheaper than burning the planet down (good luck with that with the way we fund it, too).

We are getting closer and closer to the point of no return, but economy seems to be above science. So be it.

‘COP26 hasn’t solved the problem’: scientists react to UN climate deal, on Nature

COP26: World agrees to phase-out fossil fuel subsidies and reduce coal, on New Scientist

Countries’ climate pledges built on flawed data, Post investigation finds, on the Washington Post

The invention that rewrote history

I like to end on a bright tone, so sharing this is the right thing to do. Amazing 1-hour documentary on one of the most valuable inventions of human history: the press. I love Stephen Fry, and he does a superb work both in narrating the story and in building a freaking printing press to show how it worked. I particularly enjoyed the bits where you can see one of the first Bibles that Gutenberg printed, which is in a pretty god shape even today.

Stephen Fry Takes Us Inside the Story of Johannes Gutenberg & the First Printing Press, on openculture

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

The Unity of the ring, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#45)

Super nice week where the only screen I used was the one protecting me from the sun. Ran a half-marathon using summer clothes, ate paella and empanadillas de pisto, saw family and friends. I read a couple books and saw some movies, too. I call it a win.

Just a couple links that I could not help but read:

Another success for academic publishing

Let’s get over this one more time. First, you write your projects and ask for money to develop them. You find the scientists, you hire and also train them. You buy all the equipment, and do the actual research (which sometimes works, but most of the time it does not). After some years, you might have enough data and results to share with the community, which you do by writing a paper. You write it, you prepare the images, you do all the styling and formatting. After that, you send it to a journal, which decides if your results are interesting enough for other researchers. If that’s the case, they send it to a couple scientists for them to review your work. They neither pay those researchers nor the editorial work (which is also done by another experienced scientist). After a couple rounds of revision, if you are lucky enough, they finally accept to publish your paper. You still do some more formatting work, and after that you get a preprint file, in which you still look for grammatical and/or graphical mistakes, which you also correct. Finally, after everything is looking perfect, you pay again (depending on the journal, from ~2k to ~8k €) and they publish the paper. IF you paid enough, the paper will be open access (so everyone will be able to read it for free), otherwise, people will have to pay again to read it.

And yet, after all this nonsense, publishers are getting scammed by people who manage to publish rubbish papers on their “prestigious” journals. Bravo. I guess their solution will involve asking for scientists to check for this without paying them.

Scammers impersonate guest editors to get sham papers published, on nature

Videogames > movies

Exhibit number 13545621. It still amazes me how video games have taken over almost all the entertainment industry by now. Even though I have always preferred this media over films and tv shows, I really never thought that the mainstream would finally end embracing the medium. However, news like this show how video game companies are starting to take over more traditional (even though highly technical) ones. Expect similar movements in the near future, and also the “old” companies going into game development (Netflix already did a couple months ago).

Unity to pay $1.6 billion for The Lord of the Rings VFX maker Weta Digital, on the verge

Peter Jackson Sells Weta Tech Assets to Unity for $1.62B, on the Hollywood reporter

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

Mistborn videogame? Asimov’s genius, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#44)

Writing this from the airport, on my way back home to spend a few days with the gang! Busy week, but with cool stuff to share. Let’s start:

October’s best science images from Nature

A high resolution map of lava from the La Palma volcanic eruption flowing over land and pouring over a cliff face into the sea

Another month, another astonishing compilation of science-related pictures. While I have been following the news from La Palma, I did not really stop to watch the scale of the natural disaster. It never stops to amaze me the sheer strength of nature when I see pictures from these kind of disasters. Anyway, there are also more cheerful pictures on the batch, so go take a look.

Water bear fossil and grizzly bear selfie — October’s best science images, on nature

I am the one thing you can never kill. I am Hope.

Good news on the videogames front this week. Even though this might never see the light of day, a cool concept for a Mistborn game was released the other day. It is just a matter of time someone does a tv show or a series of movies about the universe, and of course videogames will be on the table too at some point. This looks quite cool, similar in scope to the last Spiderman videogames. It would be amazing to see what a triple A budget can do with this universe. Wait and see.

Mistborn: Ashes Project

Science in sport, and how Nike is doing it

Really interesting article on techcrunch on how Nike is building bridges between the tech/science world and athletes. Decades ago, you just wore some shoes that were made thinking about the ‘standard’ foot (whatever that means). Nowadays, scientists measure how often your feet touch the ground, how much force you generate when running, how the weight is distributed at each foot, etc. By doing this, it is possible to design footwear which is not only comfortable, but also boosts your performance.

I had previously seen these kind of studies mainly in the swimming world, where you can record swimmers movements and track the water resistance to improve their technique. You can also see the turbulences they generate and try to correct them by using different materials and/or swimsuit designs. However, it is always cool to see these ideas applied at different sports such as basketball. Anyway, it was a cool read with some insights on the field of biomechanics.

How Nike innovates for everyday athletes, on techcrunch

Asimov’s genius

I’ve been forcing myself to watch the new Foundation tv show in order to chat a bit about it on the podcast. The show is quite terrible: basically a Star Wars rip-off , but with a lot of budget so it looks visually appealing. Death Star? Check. Dead people coming back as holograms? Check. People with magical powers? Check. Cloned emperors? Check. Random storylines that have nothing to do with the main story? Check check check.

Anyway, at some point I was thinking: why did they buy the rights to do a Foundation show and throw the source material down the drain? Asimov was a genius, and Foundation is a very cool saga, much better than anything coming from Hollywood today. Then, just by coincidence, I saw this post on Open Culture with an old interview on The David Letterman Show. Funny as hell, but also delivering prediction after prediction (he predicted Twitch in 1980 btw).

I would love if people started doing original shows and stopped destroying beloved classics. I guess this will never happen. Hopefully you can always ignore that rubbish and go back to the source material.

Isaac Asimov Predicts the Future on The David Letterman Show (1980), on openculture

First gameplay of Elden Ring is here, and it looks dope

You can see the Dark Souls bits, the Sekiro vibes, some Bloodborne here and there, and of course some Zelda: Breath of the Wild. February 25th is almost there, and I can feel the hype already.

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

Featured image from Raul Rosell

Human history, the metaverse, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#43)

Autumn is here (gonna miss the sun for a while now…), but there is a lot of interesting stuff to read while indoors. Let’s start:

How did we get stuck?

Really nice review about an upcoming book written by David Graeber and David Wengrow, about how societies came to be the way they are now. My previous understanding was that, originally, we were hunter-gatherers, but at some point agriculture developed and we stopped moving around. Then came towns, cities, math… and we ended destroying the planet at an alarming rate.

However, it seems (or at least the authors make a point about it) that history did not develop like that. There are some insights showing that societies changed between agriculture at a fixed spot and freely roaming around hunting, and even huge cities that did not use agriculture at all. How people decided to form these societies, and how they ended being what we have today, looks like a read I will enjoy a lot. I can’t wait to pick the book and deep into the details.

Human History Gets a Rewrite, on the Atlantic

Capitalism was a mistake, exhibit #N

6.65 million € were spent on the largest triceratops bones ever found. They will be inside a rich person house, instead of a museum. Apparently, there is nothing wrong with that:

“It’s a record for Europe,” said auctioneer Alexandre Giquello, who described exponential growth in the relatively new market of dinosaur fossils. “We’re creating a market.”

Remains of ‘Big John’, largest known triceratops, fetch nearly $8 mln, on reuters

Welcome to the metaverse. Population: ~7800 million

Lots of news these days related to tech giants. First I read this nice article on the Facebook papers, and how a lot of people think that the only way to solve the problem with the social network requires for Mark Zuckerberg to take a step to the side, create a new mother company that englobes all (Instagram, Whatsapp, Oculus, etc.), and let other people be the face of those while he oversees everything from the shadows (just as they did with Google and Alphabet, for example).

However, yesterday Facebook stopped being called Facebook. Now we are supposed to call them Meta (terrible name if you ask me, but whatever). Apparently, now they will be focusing on the new internet, which looks like a low poly version of Snow Crash, 30 years later (really, a Second Life reboot in 2021?). NFT’s? Sure, you will be able to buy them through us. Crypto? Of course. We will just take a cut and spy you in any imaginable way. It seems to me that Mark realised that he arrived too late to the phone era, and now wants to start a new one where Google and Apple will not get their tax fee on his business.

Anyway, all of these movements can be explained by the last article, which draws a really good picture of the future with regard to the behaviour of big tech corporations. Some of them will push to create a new world order where they operate all around the globe above countries and legislation (as Facebook wants to do). Others will try to comply with local governments and help them shape the future of tech (as Microsoft has been trying to do for a while on the US, or China companies are required to do by the state). Of course, there will be also billionaires that are above the planet, and just want to colonize space. What seems interesting to me is how, after winning enough money, people just think so highly of themselves that honestly consider to be able to decide what’s best for humanity, and just go for it even if they need to go through people, governments, or the environment.

Please folks, do not let a guy that got rich by creating a web to rate women (with stolen code, btw), and which is not able to speak for more than 10 minutes with other humans, to decide how human relations will be in the near future. It is clear that he read Snow Crash at some point, and for whatever reason he thought that a world were life is so shitty that people prefer to be online 24/7 is a thing humanity should go for.

‘The Problem Is Him’, on the New York magazine

Why Did Facebook Become Meta?, on the New York Times

The Technopolar Moment, on foreignaffairs

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

Featured image from 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

Recycling masks, detective dogs, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#42)

Crazy week for many reasons, so do not expect a lot of content. Anyway, let’s go ahead:

Covid-19: bad for your lungs in many different ways

I am not gonna introduce the pandemic to anyone, but maybe some of you did not realize that besides the direct health issues that the virus brought, problems on different directions also came up. One of those is that commonly used face masks represent a big waste problem. Let’s say 30% of the population uses a single-use mask every day (I think the number is higher, but for the sake of simplicity). A country like France would use about 22 millions of masks every day. If a mask weights about 3 grams, that means every day we generate about 66.000 kg of waste. Multiply that for a whole year and you get more than 24 million tons of waste. Now run the numbers for all the countries and… you get the idea.

Up to now, I have not seen many people caring about that (most of my relatives do not even have a clue on where to deposit used masks). However, there are some persons trying to put this waste to use. The people at Bristol University catch on to the fact that the masks are mainly made from polypropylene, and this can be processed in a way that 3D printers can use it as a filament for printing stuff.

I am not sure at all this procedure is safe: in the end, masks can be tagged as bio-hazard, and going through the printer hot nozzle could be not enough to “kill” the virus. In any case, I think it is a cool project if only for pointing out a big eco problem that’s out there.


Apple and human rights

Seems impossible to get a week without news like this. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has a right to choose and practice any religion. It seems that this is wet paper for muslim people in China that tries to read the Quran on an Apple device.

What really bugs me out is not that Apple does not care at all about this (and do not get me wrong, Apple is not the only corporation that does not give a shit about people rights), is the fact that during the last few years the company has presented itself as a standard bearer of privacy, ecology, and human rights. You cannot pretend to be taken seriously if you bend the knee in China because it is the market that drives your sales. Capitalism hypocrisy at its best.

Apple removed a popular Quran app in China, on the verge

Kratos as you never saw it

Oh boy, the rumours were true. It was hinted many times that some Sony exclusive games were going to be released on PC (which means higher resolutions, frame rates, etc.). God of War was announced this week, and I hope it does really well and we get additional stuff that I would love to play (The last of Us, Ghost of Tsushima).

Sony is officially bringing God of War to PC, on the verge

Should a dog’s sniff be enough to convict a person of murder?

Amazing story on Science about the use of dogs to find dead people. This is not news at all, but the debate that brings to the table is quite interesting. Is it enough that a dog determines that there was some dead body at your place to declare you guilty of a crime?

The science behind the problem is fascinating. First, we do not know how the brain of a dog works, and for sure we do not understand how they can track a dead body even when months have passed. Second, the way the dogs are trained is up for debate, as it seems that they are influenced a lot by their trainers (even if the trainers do not realize). Dogs can read you pose, your mood, your face expressions, and even catch up to your involuntary movements. At training, all of these inputs make the dog find what you want him to find, even if there is no real “signal” (smell in this case) around.

I could not stop but thinking about how this problem relates to many different applications of machine learning that we see nowadays. Given enough complex tasks, the algorithms that people use to tackle these problems are so complex (with billions of parameters to tune) that they are essentially black boxes (as the brain of the dogs that search for dead bodies). In the same way dog training is influenced by human movements or reactions, AI training sets are influenced by the biases from the humans that build them. We have seen many problems on things like face detection where the algorithms do not detect black people or women with the same accuracy of white males, which are mainly the ones working on those tasks). There is also the problem of overfitting your data, which would be the analogy of the dog finding what you want even if it is not there.

Coming back to the article, they tell the story of a man accused of murdering his son, which was condemned mainly by the fact that a dog marked some spots near his cabin as places where the son’s remains had been. Should a black box determine if you are guilty or innocent? Should we let algorithms that we do not really understand take health or safety decisions?

THE SNIFF TEST, on science

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

Featured image: The Detective Dog, by Julia Donaldson and Sara Ogilvie