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.

TURNING OLD MASKS INTO 3D PRINTER FILAMENT, on hackaday


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

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:

A TEENAGER ON TIKTOK DISRUPTED THOUSANDS OF SCIENTIFIC STUDIES WITH A SINGLE VIDEO, 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

https://siecledigital.fr/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/amazon-astro-940x550.jpeg

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
REMEMBER WHEN BETA TESTING WAS FREE?, 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!

Netflix and the chocolate factory, AI controlling funding, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#38)

So, this week we have quite a lot of different stuff. Let’s get to it.


Could you please stop doing that

Is Netflix going to destroy some of the best books ever written? My bet is a big yes. At least I hope Dahl’s family will enjoy the money…

Netflix Acquires Roald Dahl Story Company, Plans Extensive Universe, on Variety

Sorry [#researcher_ID], funds not found

Really cool article on the MIT technology review about using AI to guide research. The case study is about the Decadal Survey, where many scientists decide every ten years which are the most interesting areas for future research. This leads to lots of funding going in that direction, so it is a big deal for some people (the researchers getting the funds), but also relevant for the general public (in the end, all the research provides advances for everyone, no matter the subject).

The news here is that some researchers are suggesting that we should use AI algorithms to go through all the proposals (there is more than 500 for the next survey), because there is no way the experts that work on the survey have enough knowledge to decide over so many different topics. While this seems like a good point to me, I still think the AI technology that we have nowadays is far from being useful for such a relevant task.

Some other thoughts that came to mind where that, when you decide a reduced number of areas and give tons of funding for doing research on them, you attract many scientists, which in the end will generate lots of papers on those topics. These papers will cross-reference other papers on the same topic, thus generating a lot of impact (as we usually measure the impact of publications by how many citations they get). In this scenario, you can always say that giving funding to this research was the good thing to do (it generated a lot of impact). But, was it relevant in the first place or it generated publications because there was a lot of money in funding?

Also, we have seen countless times that serendipity in science is a big force to reckon. You never know the findings you will get when doing research, and many times you will find extremely relevant applications in distant fields when you fund basic / not trendy research fields. Will AI ever be able to grasp these ideas? Should we really focus on specific topics of research, or just fund everything?

This AI could predict 10 years of scientific priorities—if we let it, on MIT technology review

Was “Despacito” a virus?

It is actually nice to know that, while I was infected many years ago by electronic music, it was something bound to happen at some point. Cool study trying to link the way music spreads between people with the way infectious diseases unfold. I really liked the ideas about the similarities and differences between dynamics with viruses and music. Sometimes you just heard something walking through the street (which would be similar to getting influenza at your work space or with your family), but many times you just see a tweet from a friend which is miles away and you get attracted to a song/genre.

Mathematicians discover music really can be infectious – like a virus, on the guardian
Modelling song popularity as a contagious process, on Proceedings of the Royal Society A

Modern architecture was a mistake

Really nice post on openculture with a video essay on Modern architecture, and why so many people (including myself) kinda hate it. Anyway, at least is not brutalism/postmodern (I am thinking about you, Centre Pompidou)

Why Do People Hate Modern Architecture?: A Video Essay, on openculture

Keep going, nothing to see here…

Everything is fine. No monopolistic practices. We are cool. Privacy is our motto. All we do is for the benefit of our customers. We review the apps on our store. We work with developers.

THE BITTER LAWSUIT HANGING OVER THE APPLE WATCH’S NEW SWIPE KEYBOARD, on theverge
Fortnite likely isn’t coming back to the App Store anytime soon, on techcrunch
Apple Lies About Epic Again, on the Michael Tsai blog

Some thoughts on the Apple vs Epic trial results

Last week we saw the result of the Epic vs Apple trial. As expected, most of the stuff that was discussed on the lawsuit was rejected, and the judge gave Apple a pass on almost all of the accusations (also, Epic will have to pay a lot of money due to breaking contracts with Apple). Of course, Apple is claiming that they won the trial (and if you just look at the numbers, I would tend to agree). However though, there were some parts that I found quite interesting and I want to discuss here.

First, the fact that the judge did not say that Apple is not a monopoly, she just stated that Epic was not able to demonstrate that (and to me this is quite relevant, because we can see other trials in the future discussing exactly this point). Second, the judge ordered that, from now on, Apple has to allow developers including information about different pay options that work outside the Apple Store. Many people will say that Apple will not lose much money from that (and I agree), but I think that this is not the point at all. In fact, the questionable benefit split is still there, and they could even make it worse for developers by arguing that they are losing money. However, allowing developers stating that users can give them money without using the app store (and thus evading the Apple tax) is a small crack on the walled garden that iOS is, and who knows where it could end (I still think that different stores are a terrible long shot, but who knows).

During the trial, Apple stated that their model was good, and used two arguments to try to demonstrate that. First, that the tax is a way to obtain money for all the development that Apple has put onto the store. Second, that this model preserves user security, as parallel stores would promote insecure apps. While I agree on the argument that developing the store was expensive (and it still is, as maintaining and updating it entails some costs), they have already won billions of dollars with it. When is it a good moment to say “okay, that is enough, we already recovered our inversion”? Of course, Apple being a company, this moment will never arrive. The second point is so weak that even during the trial, the lawyers found it extremely hard to sustain it (I mean, you can download apps from wherever you want if you use a computer with MacOS). We saw many examples of malicious apps getting very good reviews, and not being removed from the store for months even when Apple was pretty aware of the problem. Security does not just mean privacy. If your users get lured into fake apps, or are the target of questionable marketing tricks to spend money, your system cannot be labelled as secure.

There is another related topic that I also found very interesting at the time, which is the curation process that the store follows. During the court case, there were many exhibits showing the mess it is, with many examples from developers. We even saw some internal mails showing how scam apps where buying 5-star reviews and appearing on top of the store. Also, there has been a lot of developers telling their experiences during the last months via twitter, for example. It seems quite clear to me that the process they follow now (little to no automation, human-based review) is not working (from the exhibits and the stories you find online, the reviewers are even worse than the ones you usually find in academic journal reviewing). Will they switch to more algorithm-based curation like Google does? Will they hire enough people to improve the system? Or will they come up with new solutions? This is one of the main problems users and developers get when there is just one app store on your platform: there is no competition, so there is no rush to improve these systems and people cannot escape the garden to get a better service (does it sound like monopoly practices just to me?).

So, are we going to see new trials regarding these topics? I am pretty certain we will. Is Apple applying monopolistic actions? While you can always argue that if you don’t like their store, you can choose another operating system (Android), I still feel like the way they handle the store is hurting both users and developers, and they can handle the store in that way because there is no other option in the system. It actually reminds me of the famous case against Microsoft with Internet Explorer back in the day…


If you are interested and want to dive deeper on the trial, I found the following links very informative:

Apple Won a Battle to Lose the War, on 500ish
A COMPREHENSIVE BREAKDOWN OF THE EPIC V. APPLE RULING, on the verge
Apple called its Epic ruling a ‘huge win.’ It wasn’t, on the Washington post

PS: I know this might seem impossible, but if someone at Apple reads this, I would just love to be able to type “Twitter” on the app store and get the oficial Twitter app as the first result, instead of some random advertisement shenanigans (you can try with many very famous services. I particularly like to see Amazon Prime Video as the first result when you search for Netflix). I know you do not have a big budget, but it would be a cool feature.

Streamer anxiety, the cookies are back, iPrivacy, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#35)

Back from summer holidays (that was short), and a lot of interesting stuff to post. Let’s go!

Designed in California, Assembled in China, Purchased by You, Owned by Us.

A very interesting piece by Snowden on the recent changes to privacy done by Apple. I could not help but read tons of articles on how the system will work, and how could end up being a repression tool. Who says Apple will never tweak the databases to find for troubling people in China? They already gave their users data to them by building data centers in the country instead of storing on the US ones. Also, during the last weeks there have been more and more reports on how they handle internal problems and/or privacy of their workers which seem very troubling…

The All-Seeing “i”: Apple Just Declared War on Your Privacy, on Continuing Ed

New jobs, old? problems

I have been reading/watching many people who work as streamers/youtubers recently openly talking about the struggles they have while doing their job. At first glance, they are super successful, but they face anxiety, stress, and uncertainty almost everyday. While these problems are not new for me (as someone doing research, I have never had stability and I am 33 now…), I really enjoyed the openness with they tackled the topic.

Pokimane Has Done Enough—and Has So Much Left to Do, on Wired
The reality of being a streamer (in Spanish), on knekro’s youtube channel

Duodecillion cookies!

A cool piece on the story of idle games, in particular on the development of Cookie Clicker, which came to Steam this week (with an amazing soundtrack by C418!!!). Also on the debate of idle games actually being games, which is something I never really thought about.

‘Cookie Clicker’ Wasn’t Meant to Be Fun. Why Is It So Popular 8 Years Later?, on vice

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

Empty offices, bazooka trickshots, taxes, and more: The weekly recap (2021#23)

So much cool stuff happening, and so little time…


Stop fangirling rich people

Rememeber this: big companies just want money, they are not your friends. They are guided ONLY by money, not by moral, ethics, or anything else you can think about.

The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How the Wealthiest Avoid Income Tax, on ProPublica
The creator economy is running into the Apple Tax — this startup is fighting back, on theverge

Tales from the pandemic

Two very nice reads on how the pandemic changed things (sometimes for the better). I am looking forward to see the changes in society when we are ‘back to normal’. Will it be like 9/11? Will we forget this in no time? Wait and see…

The empty office: what we lose when we work from home, on the guardian
Education outreach can inspire the next generation of scientists, on nature

Hop in, we’re going to a better place

E3 started this week and oh boy, I missed this. Time to enjoy with the lies, the memes, and the cool games:

Bazooka trickshot confirmed Battlefield canon:
Elden Ring IS HERE!

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

PS: I can’t wait to see what is the % of FIFA code that has been the same for the last 10 years:

Hackers Steal Wealth of Data from Game Giant EA, on vice