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

The Amazon’s gambit, China’s pre-criminals, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#41)

Not many news this week (mainly due to having so little time to read), but quite interesting topics. Let’s start!

This is nice. I will sell it from now on

Something I’ve heard many times before, but now with some exhibits. If you are selling something on Amazon and have quite some success, prepare to be copied by Amazon, then you will be removed from the search results (which will show first the Amazon version), and of course you will be out-priced (what did you expect, Amazon can build stuff cheaper than you do).

The people at Reuters wrote a very thoughtful piece showing these practices in India. I recommend the read, but I think the most important thing you can do is really think about where you buy your stuff. Where do you want to place your money, on the original creators of some product, or on the company of the man that wants to burn money going into space for fun, while its workers are being exploited?

As a last note, I could not help but think on how terrible it is when you, as a company or a creator, loose the control over your business or the content you create. This applies to so many aspects of our current lives. What happens when all your Youtube/Twitch/TikTok videos get removed without notice? What happens when you stop selling your goods through your store and Amazon ends destroying your business? How about posting all your texts on your Facebook page? Do you like storing your pictures on the cloud? Nice, we will use them to train our AI algorithms. Please, stop gifting your stuff to billion dollar companies.

Amazon copied products and rigged search results to promote its own brands, documents show, on reuters

How Slack changed the world

Really interesting article on how a single app can change so many social/professional interactions. We saw the same some time ago with instant messaging services (Whatsapp, etc.). However, they are right that it might be the first time a business-oriented service has changed so many things. It is super easy now to work remotely with many people. We have almost stopped sending e-mails, which is a big thing (although I still like the good things that asynchronous communication brings to the table). Also, Slack has gathered workers together in a way that is quite hard to control for employers. Before, it was quite difficult to know which were the problems of some of your co-workers (specially on really big companies). Now, you can easily message with people in different departments, or even with branches in other countries, without your boss even noticing.

We have recently seen how people working at big tech companies have rallied on Slack to complain about their work environment. Nowadays, it is very easy to ask co-workers doing your same job how much money do they earn, which has also raised protests. However, not everything has been so nice. Instant messaging apps can make very difficult to disconnect from work, thus generating burnout in the mid/long run. Also, usually you have these apps installed on your personal devices, and it is not nice to get notifications in the middle of the night or during the weekend, because not all the people share the same work schedules…

SLACKERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!, on the atlantic

Saga is finally coming back

One of the coolest SciFi comic books I have read in a while is coming back soon, and we will have a good ride till the end, with another 54 issues. I can’t wait!!!

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga Returns in January 2022, on

Just have a seat, pre-criminal

This is a terribly sad story, but I think the best we can do is to share, so everyone gets to know how some countries treat their own civilians. With the excuse of controlling infected from Covid-19, China has been using face recognition software to oppress minorities (Uyghurs in this case). You can always think that there are some terrible places doing stuff like this, but until you read the stories, you never know how real they can be.

It is also worth noticing that the same technology used in China is being developed both in Europe and the US, so the future does not look very bright, I’m afraid.

For sure, I know that this book will be one of my following reads.

The covid tech that is intimately tied to China’s surveillance state, on the MIT technology review

In The Camps: China’s High-Tech Penal Colony, by Columbia Global Reports

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

More Bezosism, Nixon deepfakes, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#40)

Quite a lot going on this week. Massive leaks, Nobel prizes, deepfakes, Facebook being shamed everywhere… let’s start.

Can you tell the difference? Does it really matter?

Cool technology being shown by the people at MIT. Of course, deepfakes are not something new, and this one in particular is not over the top in quality (at some point people will start training the algorithms to move the forehead and the eyebrows in a natural way). Anyway, besides the technology, I liked the discussion about the use people are making of these tools. On the one hand, you have organizations trying to build systems to make mute people able to use their voice again (which is amazing). On the other, you have people putting celeb faces on porn videos, and making famous people tell lies on YouTube.

It really makes me think about how, for many many years, when a new regime wanted to control people, they used to change the history books. Nowadays, people consume most of their information in video format, through the internet. I guess we are not so far away from governments spamming famous people spreading fake news everywhere, with a quality that would be extremely difficult to grasp for the human eye. If it is hard to fight against fake news from random people on Facebook, what will happen when first line politicians/scientists will be the ones spreading misinformation?

A Nixon Deepfake, a ‘Moon Disaster’ Speech and an Information Ecosystem at Risk, on scientific american

Facebook vs the world

This week the Senate hold a hearing about Facebook, and a whistleblower throw a lot of shit on the fan about how the company algorithms work. The underlying idea, as everyone should know already, is that the only thing Facebook wants is for you to spend as much time as possible on the platform, sharing as much posts/information as possible, even if you spread fake news and hurt people, because that is what provides them huge amounts of money. I recommend the piece the people at MIT tech review wrote:

The Facebook whistleblower says its algorithms are dangerous. Here’s why., on the MIT technology review

CO2 removal, the shell game?

Quite an interesting piece on Nature about the plans from Microsoft to go zero-net emissions before 2030. With all these projects, I always wonder if ‘undoing’ your emissions is the right call, or generating technology with zero emissions should be the prior. Of course, at some point you have to undo all the emissions you did in the last centuries. However, I cannot help but think about how seeding trees to remove CO2 during the following decades will do nothing when those same forests disappear before balancing your emissions. Also, it is a very naïve way of solving a problem: I remove CO2 from the atmosphere and I store it on the biosphere, creating a problem for future generations (who will need to find a way to clean the biosphere). Anyway, at least they are doing something, I guess.

Microsoft’s million-tonne CO2-removal purchase — lessons for net zero, on nature

Science images of the month

Seahorse with mask

I’ll keep posting these as long as they keep doing them.

Space jellyfish and subterranean robots — September’s best science images, on nature

See you space cowboy

Another week, another story about how it is impossible to win huge amounts of money without being a total prick that does not care about the wellbeing of others. People working 24/7 so I can ride through space? Why not.

Blue Origin’s ideas to mimic SpaceX sound pretty brutal for employees, on the verge

Twitch being pwned by 4chan

Besides a lot of code and internal information about the company (which apparently was not a big deal, as it was quite old), the leak included the numbers for how much money people have been winning on the platform. I guess everyday is clearer why the Amazon Prime subs will stop working at Twitch sooner than later.

Will Youtube become a real competitor at any point? What’s clear to me is that all these fuzz is paving the way for multiple services to stand up and generate a blooming field for streamers, which I’d say its a good thing.

Twitch source code and creator payouts part of massive leak, on the verge

Twitch confirms hack after source code and creator payout data leaks online, on techcrunch

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

Apple being Apple, TikTok research, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#39)

Autumn is arriving, but we still have some sunlight every now and then. In any case, morning runs below 10º are common already… winter is coming.

Research culture, and how to improve it

Really nice couple articles on how research works nowadays, and which are some of the points we should try to improve to make it a better place. While centered on the field of chemistry and based on UK, I think there are points in common with many different fields all over the world.

What’s wrong with research culture?, on chemistryworld
How to improve research culture, on chemistryworld

The Horror Short Film In Spider-Man 2

Earlier this week I was talking with some friends and Tobey McGuire name popped up. The conversation deviated and we started discussing which Spiderman was better. I argued that, while McGuire seemed the worst cast to me, but their movies were my favourite. A couple hour later, I was surprised by this video from The Nerdwriter, talking about one of the best scenes of Spiderman 2 (which I think is the best Spiderman movie ever made). Enjoy the decomposition of all the takes, which is super well-done, as usual.

Researchers getting rekt by tiktokers

One of the funniest stories I’ve read in a while. A little bit of context. In the past few years, there has been a growing number of services on the internet to make surveys. While most of the time the objective of those surveys is commercial, researchers on psychology took advantage of it as a way to perform their research in a very effective way. Instead of taking people to the lab, one by one, and making the surveys there, suddenly they were able to do everything online, getting to question many more people in shorter amounts of time (which is nice to make statistical analysis, of course).

The catch here is that usually they pay some amount of money for the time it takes to answer to the survey, so there will always be some people willing to answer tens or hundreds of surveys for a couple bucks. This is exactly what happened to a teen tiktoker, who also posted a short video on the social network showing the amount of money she earned (about 20 bucks). What happened after is that, in a couple of days, researchers found that some of their surveys had a huge demographic change (some of them had been answered with a ratio of more than 90% of female teens). While its a funny story, those studies were compromised and the surveys needed to be taken off the platform.

Moral of the story: learn to code and provide tools to weight/average/take into account your demography.

You can read the full story on the verge:


There is a rotten Apple on the basket

There is world outside the Epic vs Apple trial, and this week we have a couple more examples on how the most valuable company in the world operates.

First, on the privacy bandwagon. We already know that privacy is a must for Apple. Unless you live on China. Or unless you participate on their bounty hunt for vulnerabilities and want to get paid.

Frustrated dev drops three zero-day vulns affecting Apple iOS 15 after six-month wait, on the register

But there is more. Remember when companies sold just a single product Apple used to make computers, but at some point they started doing smartphones (okay, that’s just a pocket computer), selling music, and producing tv shows on their own platform. You could think that this is a sign of them winning huge amounts of money (and you would be right), and that they are employing many artists, technicians, etc. While this is also true, how can you explain this news airing?

Apple claimed it had less than 20 million TV+ subscribers in July, showbiz union says, on cnbc

The thing here is quite simple. Apple claims that Apple TV+ does not have many subscribers, so based on that number they were able to cut the pay to production crew members in comparison with other streaming services. While the numbers might be true (that is something I don’t know, because they do not make them available), I have problems understanding how can Apple get away with this practice, as if they were not winning money with Apple TV+.

Of course, if you just look at the numbers of the streaming service, they might seem bad (I know less than 5 people using it between all my friends, colleagues, etc.). However, Apple is a company that makes most of their money by selling phones. Also tablets and computers (conventional desktops, laptops, and home cinema based, like the Apple TV). Apple TV+ is just a trinket to catch your eye and make you stay on their walled garden. Even though right now it might not attract many people to buying their hardware, it is clearly an investment, so they should not be able to say “Well folks, we are not winning a lot of money with this, we do not have many subscribers, so you are getting a cut on you pay”.

Capitalism, I guess.

New VR headset from Valve?

Of course, they could kill it without saying anything, but I really hope they keep developing hardware and giving people more options on the VR headsets. Right now it seems that the most popular headsets are the ones from Facebook (which I would never buy), so this movement could end up giving more options to a market that has stagnated a bit on the past few years.

Valve reportedly developing standalone VR headset codenamed ‘Deckard’, on the verge

“Robots” and paying money for doing beta testing

That’s not a robot, Bezos

That’s not a robot, Bezos. And I would never let you put so many cameras on my apartment, by the way. I really liked the second link, talking about how companies have started selling beta access to their products. It really ringed a bell and made me think about how Tesla is beta-testing their cars using public roads, with individuals that have their car and payed a huge amount for entering the autonomous driving program.

Don’t be fooled — Amazon’s Astro isn’t a home robot, it’s a camera on wheels, on the verge
How Tesla’s ‘Self-Driving’ Beta Testers Protect the Company From Critics, on vice
Tesla makes Full Self-Driving early access testers sign NDAs, report says, on cnet

More Facecrap

A couple weeks ago I posted some news about how Facebook is behaving (brief reminder: not very nicely). Of course, they got mad and started fighting with the Wall Street Journal, stating that they were publishing fake news. This week the newspaper published their data, just before the Senate of the US holds a hearing about the social network impact. You can take a look in the following link:

Facebook’s Documents About Instagram and Teens, Published, on the Wall Street Journal

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