Hearing with light, saying hello to coal (again), and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2022#29)

Lots of interesting stuff to share. A farewell to one of the most clever game studios out there, the latest advances in optoelectronics, another take on how humans will end up exterminating ourselves, and how scientists plan to improve weather forecast with the help of turtles are just a few of the links this week. Let’s get this going:


Prepare to die

Cool list with some of the most memorable deaths in fiction. I am missing a few (Ned >>> Catelyn, where is Vader?), but overall I find the list quite good (they put Seymour in Futurama) and maybe you find new stuff that you did not now about.

The 50 Greatest Fictional Deaths of All Time, on Slate Magazine


Hearing with light

Swapping electricity by light has always been an interesting idea. You get faster signals, and it is possible to miniaturise devices much more. Now, the people at the Institute for Auditory Neuroscience are developing cochlear implants that, instead of putting electrodes to excite the cochlea of people, will excite its cells (previously genetically modified) by using light. By doing so, it should be possible to generate richer sounds. Very cool idea, and very good article.

Restoring Hearing With Beams of Light, on IEEE Spectrum


When this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious shit

We keep seeing how AI’s master different video games. Sophy, the AI that the people at Sony have built, not only beats the best players out there, but it also showed new strategies that now humans are trying to mimic. Not so amazing as the guy who solved Jump King with genetic algorithms, but still impressive.

Sony used reinforcement learning to train GT Sophy from scratch via trial and error. At first the AI struggled to keep a car on the road. But after training on 10 PlayStation 4s, each running 20 instances of the program, GT Sophy matched Gran Turismo’s built-in AI, which amateur players use for practice, in around eight hours. In 24 hours it was laying down lap times near the very top of an online leaderboard of 17,700 human players.

Sony’s racing AI destroyed its human competitors by being nice (and fast), on the MIT technology review


The first forgotten

Some decisions are super hard to understand. For the past ~20 years, Germany has been dismantling its nuclear power plants with the premise that nuclear is not a green energy. I am not gonna question that move, although the idea might be up for debate. However, while reducing nuclear, they increased their gas consumption (which is not particular good for the environment), and with it, their energy dependence on other countries (such as Russia). Not long ago, the EU decided that both gas and nuclear would be considered as green, in a movement that puzzled the whole scientific community. Of course, everything was caused by the shortage of energy sources that everyone is suffering due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the justifications being given are so stupid that the only conclusion that can be drawn is that environment and climate change are the last priority of almost every country out there. Instead of undoing decades of work towards green energy, we should be spending public money in fighting the energy crisis. Invest in the future of your people, or keep destroying the planet so big companies do not lose their benefits?

The answer seems to be quite clear, at least for many EU partners, which are going back to coal, one of the dirtiest alternatives around. All of this in the same week we have suffered one of the worst heatwaves in the last century. In Paris, we hit 42ºC this Tuesday. The UK has seen temperatures typical from Africa, and things will get much worse in the following weeks. India and South Asia hit temperatures above 50ºC just a couple months ago. Spain surpassed 44ºC last week. And the worse thing is that this is just the beginning: the following years are going to be literally Hell on Earth, even if we were able to start reverting global warming right now.

Germany takes ‘bitter’ decision to fire up coal power plants as Russia chokes off its vital natural gas supplies, on Business Insider
Dutch join Germany, Austria, in reverting to coal, on France24
Germany will fire up coal plants again in an effort to save natural gas, on The New York Times
Yes, Britain had a heatwave in 1976. No, it was nothing like the crisis we’re in now, on The Guardian
Heat wave kills more than 2,000 people in Spain and Portugal, on axios.com
Wildfires rage in Greece, Spain and Italy as heatwave moves across Europe, on the BBC

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A couple weeks ago I shared some news on how China suffered one of the biggest hacks in history, and I think this is somewhat related. When you want to spy so much on your own citizens, it is impossible to maintain high levels of privacy. The situation is so extreme that the government is censoring texts even before they get published. 2022 > 1984.

A million-word novel got censored before it was even shared. Now Chinese users want answers., on the MIT technology review


We all live in a LEGO submarine

Is always amazing to see people using LEGO to do cool stuff, whether it be building microscopes or a freaking submarine.

How To Become A Lego Submariner, on Hackaday


There goes a legend

I still vividly remember the first time I played SpaceChem. It was the first time that a game was teaching me logical thinking in a really fun and interactive way. In fact, it is probably one of the best (if not the best) puzzle game I have ever played. Since then, the people at Zachtronics have published more than 10 different games, some of them being really impressive (Infinifactory, TIS-100, Eliza). Now they part ways with the launch of Last Call BBS, which I have been playing for a couple weeks. It obviously has the Zachtronics feel, with several little gems inside (ChipWizard Professional and X’BPGH: The Forbidden Path are I couple I particularly liked), all wrapped in a big homage to retro gaming.

Even though it feels a bit sad to lose such a cool studio, I am pretty sure that their games have influenced many people, and their legacy will live on in future video games. Also, it is cool that they stopped doing games because they want to do other stuff, and not because anything bad happened. You can read a nice batch of farewell articles below, which I think is very telling on how these games have impacted the community, even if they did not sell a huge number of copies.

Goodbye Zachtronics, Developers Of Very Cool Video Games, on Kotaku
Why Last Call BBS is the last call for indie studio Zachtronics, on PC Gamer
Why Zachtronics is shutting down for good this time, on gamesIndustry.biz
Last Call BBS is a tour through a decade of Zachtronics indie development, on RockPaperShotgun
‘Last Call BBS’ Is a Brilliant Send-Off to Indie Darling Zachtronics, on Vice

The game that got half the world through Covid lockdowns has an interesting story behind, and the people at Noclip have done a terrific work telling it (as usual). I think I will always remember how a then newcomer PhD student (who had been in the lab less than a week before going into lockdown mode) insta-killed our PI in the first lab match, 10 seconds into the game.

It is always super cool to see how a small indie team creates something that ticks with so many people and get rewarded. Now, let’s see what the people at Innersloth do next.

The Making of Among Us – Documentary, on Youtube


Heroes in a half shell

I’ve talked before in the blog on how novel sensors are helping scientists study our environment with unprecedented details. Before, we saw how putting cameras on fishes can be used to study the biosphere and learn how they predate other animals, but now we have another cool example: using sea turtles to predict tropical cyclones. More than 80 turtles have been already tagged and released on the Indian Ocean, and their sensors help tracking the status of the sea at depths between 25 and 100 meters under the surface, which is exactly the data that can help you predict when a cyclone will start.

So far, storms have caught out a few turtles, Bousquet says. The turtles’ tracks show they stopped swimming, waited for the storm to pass, and moved on as before. Once, a cyclone did pass over a turtle, and then the storm did a U-turn and passed over it again. The turtle was fine.

Data from the heart of a cyclone is incredibly valuable, Bousquet says, and “every cyclone is different.” But to get the data, researchers will have to perfectly time a turtle’s release, two or three weeks before a storm blows through. They’ve missed a couple of storms by just days. “We need a little bit of luck,” Bousquet says.

How Tagged Turtles Are Boosting Tropical Cyclone Prediction, on Hakai Magazine


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

Featured image: ChipWizard: Professional, from Last Call BBS

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