Sci-Hub trials, entering The Matrix, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#50)

Two weeks to finish the year, and many rankings are starting to appear. I will try not to saturate the remaining recaps, but some are quite cool and I want to share them. Also, if time allows, I will try to write a bit about the videogames/books/shows/movies that I particularly enjoyed this year. Let’s get to it:


Nature’s best images of the year + 10 people who helped shape science in 2021

Nothing new here about the pics, as I have been sharing them every month. However, it is always to cool to take a look at the recap of the year, just in case you missed some interesting story. I am still particularly impressed by the pictures from La Palma, though there are some other impressive articles on the list.

On the other hand, Nature also wrote a cool piece about ten people who delved into relevant aspects of science. While I am not a big fan of personalising studies or causes (nothing is really researched or solved by a single person), I think it is quite cool to give voice to the people that dedicate their work to relevant topics. Of course, this year all the rankings are going to be filled with Covid related stuff, and this is no exception. However, there are still several mentions to themes that I have covered along these posts. Climate change research, the morals of AI, and aerospace are just some of the stories you can dive into. A cool read for the holidays!

The best science images of 2021, on Nature
Nature’s 10, on Nature

This week we also saw how a trial in India could reshape the way we publish and read scientific papers. The main point of the news is that India might allow Sci-Hub to operate in the country, based on the fact that a free access to scientific information is more relevant for the nation that copyright claims from giant publishers.

I have written about Sci-Hub many times in the blog, and also about how the whole publishing sector feels like a bad joke to me. For a decade now, Sci-Hub has been fighting against the system by allowing researchers all over to globe to jump above the paywall system that many publishers have imposed. While doing so, they have created a service which is exceptionally efficient: you just copy the link of the paper or its digital identifier and the content “magically” appears before your eyes. It literally takes less than 20 seconds to do the whole process, while conventional systems require multiple logins, institutional checks, and going through obsolete webpages that have not been updated since the 90’s (another day we can talk about some paper submission systems, which usually make you lose a full day just to send a pdf with your work for reviewing). And of course, that only works if your institution payed millions to the publishers in the first place. Otherwise you can buy a full article for about +40$, or the journal’s full volume for +100$.

There is actually a big resemblance with how music was consumed just a couple decades ago. People were doing music, people were buying music, but most of the money was going on the wrong hands (i.e. not to the artists). With scientific research, everyone is paying the scientists to do research (mainly with their taxes), the scientists are writing, proofreading (for free), reviewing (for free), editing (for free), and paying for publishing and accessing the papers, while publishers get a massive cut for basically maintaining an online database (to no surprise, academic publishing is one the business with the biggest profits in the world).

I don’t think that Sci-Hub’s model is the perfect solution, and many things have to change in science in order to solve the publishing problems (impact factors, institutions favouring number over quality of publications, etc.). However, I am all in on something that disturbs the status quo. As Napster was the first step to a more fair music ecosystem, Sci-Hub might be the most important movement we have seen in how science is accessed in a very long time (maybe ever?). It is time that supposedly clever people get out of such a dumbass system, once and for all.

What Sci-Hub’s latest court battle means for research, on Nature

The Matrix Awakens

It is quite challenging to describe with words the Matrix demo that people from the Unreal team made. I think it is even hard to grasp the tech jump even by watching it on video. I am really curious to see how movies will look like in the upcoming years. Will we still watch non-interactive films in a decade from now, or the genre will start to fuse with interactive experiences? Will games take over as young people today get to conform the majority of the mass market?

Anyway, really impressive details on the faces of both Neo and Trinity, amazing movement animations, and a city that just feels unrealistically real. The future is here.

There is also a cool interview on how was the making of the demo, with really good points on the future of tech by Moss and Reeves. Kudos to Keanu for the comments on NFTs, crypto, and Facebook’s metaverse.

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss on making The Matrix Awakens with Epic Games, on the verge
The Matrix Awakens didn’t blow my mind, but it convinced me next-gen gaming is nigh, on the verge

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

Featured image from Emilio Morenatti

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!

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

https://cdn-s-www.vosgesmatin.fr/images/2375D722-F317-4040-B216-AF8F2EFAB469/NW_listE/jeff-bezos-apres-son-vol-reussi-dans-l-espace-photo-joe-raedle-getty-images-afp-1626806281.jpg

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!

Some thoughts on the Protonmail case

This week there has been a lot of buzz about the fact that Protonmail (a mail provider that sold privacy above everything) tracked the IP of a climate activist and provided it to the french police, after it was requested. Of course, many people claimed that privacy should be above everything, and that Protonmail has been lying to the users for a long time now. They even changed some of the text you could read on their website regarding privacy and how they manage your data.

So, let’s talk a bit about this for a moment. I do strongly defend privacy, and I think that everyone should be able to remain anonymous not only on the internet, but everywhere on the planet. This entails a tremendous effort, because we have developed many technologies in the past few decades, but legislation has been tremendously slow, unable to follow the pace of tech development. Moreover, most of these new tools have been developed by private companies (which main objective, and usually the only one, is to get benefits). In many cases, these companies have grown so much that they stopped being national and became multinational, or basically global companies that operate all over the world. While this might seem a good thing at first glance (everyone can use their tech, no matter the country they live in), I firmly believe that the moment you go global, you have so much power that it is almost impossible to legislate your activities. We see examples of companies moving production to third-world countries to win more money, where they pay wages that are so low that people are basically slaves. In the same spirit, there are companies doing business in Europe that sell all their products through fiscal paradieses, evading taxes. During the past few years, we have started seeing countries trying to legislate these activities, with more or less success (it seems that the European Union might be on the right track now, let’s wait and see… *crossing fingers*).

So, let’s go back to protonmail. Do I think that privacy is important? For sure. Should they give information to the country in which they operate? Absolutely. You cannot ask for tech companies following the law and paying taxes but excuse them on different topics like user privacy. No company should be above the state (and ultimately, its citizens), even if I like the company and what they do. The tricky question here is: are countries always right in their claims to companies? And I fear that the answer is a clear no. In this case, France classified a climate activist as a terrorist. Let that sink for a minute. We have many other examples around the world where governments go against their citizen minorities (either for their sexuality, race, or religion). I have already posted some news in this blog about how Apple bent the knee to the China government before. Should companies bend over in those cases? Morally no, but companies are not human beings, they have no moral codes. Can companies legally fight states? Should they? It is an exceptionally tricky situation, to which I honestly do not have a solution. In any case, I think this is a very interesting (and important) problem, and for sure we will see more and more news like this one in the following years.

ProtonMail deletes ‘we don’t log your IP’ boast from website after French climate activist reportedly arrested, on the register
Important clarifications regarding arrest of climate activist, on protonmail.com
ProtonMail Amends Its Policy After Giving Up an Activist’s Data, on wired