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 tor.com was super cool.

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


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!

Optical companding

Christmas came and gone, and I am still trying to keep up with some papers I’ve read in the last months.

The guys at UCLA keep doing impressive stuff. First time I saw something from them was their work on Nature about ultrafast optical imaging (woah!).

This time they have proposed a way to improve the digitization of an electrical signal. Living in the time of the ‘great convergence’, every time we are more aware than Optics, Electronics, and Computer Science are closely related. Nowadays, in order to acquire optical information, one has almost always to deal with electrical signals in the analog domain, which need to be digitized before working with them in a computer. To do so, the most used tools are analog-to-digital converters (ADC). These instruments receive an electrical signal (analog), and convert it to a digital signal (a number representing the voltage or the current you are working with). This quantification sometimes results problematic, given that the full dynamic range of the signal (from the maximum to the minimum value) has to be divided in a finite number of steps (bins). If the signal presents very low variations, the bins might be not small enough to see the full details. One can try to see those details by amplifying the signal, but then the bigger values of the signal might be larger than the maximum value measurable by the ADC, provoking saturation.

Jalali’s group proposes to use Optical Companding to overcome this issue. The fundamental idea is to use optical processes that are not linear to compress the high amplitude signal parts, while amplifying the small amplitude signal values at the same time. After that, a traditional ADC digitizes the signal, and the knowledge about the optical compressor makes it possible to restore the original signal with great accuracy.

Optical Companding,

Yunshan Jiang, Bahram Jalali, submitted on 29 Dec 2017, https://arxiv.org/abs/1801.00007

(featured image exctracted from Fig. 1 of the manuscript)

Abstract,
We introduce a new nonlinear analog optical computing concept that compresses the signal’s dynamic range and realizes non-uniform quantization that reshapes and improves the signal-to-noise ratio in the digital domain.

The Syllabus

The Syllabus is a blog where I put scientific stuff I ran into in my day to day activites. Right now I am doing a PhD in Physics (photonics), so expect news about optics, computational imaging, compressive sensing, single-pixel imaging, multidimensional imaging, bio stuff…