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!

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

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!

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!

Facecrap, Bezosism, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#37)

Really packed week, so let’s start right away.


Enhance!

Another year, another amazing contest of scientific photography. I particularly liked the third place, though all the images are really impressive.

2021 PHOTOMICROGRAPHY COMPETITION, on nikonsmallworld


Nintendo being Nintendo

Honestly, I thought that after 4 years they were not going to add bluetooth support for headphones, even though everyone knew that it was a trivial thing to do. Anyway, better late than never, I guess.

Nintendo finally adds Bluetooth audio to the Switch in new software update, on the verge

La Liga goes crypto

And jumps aboard the hype train of NFTs. Apparently, you will be able to burn waste energy buying digital stickers of Hazard soon.

La Liga Becomes First Top Soccer League to Offer NFTs of All Players, on coindesk

Kratos is back!

And the game really looks amazing. Can’t wait to get a ps5 (maybe in 2022? let’s cross fingers for production ramping up…).


The Facebook files

This week, the Wall Street Journal published a series of articles with a lot of insights of how Facebook operates, and why it has become a problem. Manipulating elections, spreading fake news, and shaming the bodies of minors are just a few examples of the stuff that happens behind the curtain in Zuckerberg company. Personally it’s been around 5 years I do not use Facebook (I left after several data breaches and privacy scandals), I’ve never been a fan of Instagram, and I left Whatsapp around one year ago (again, I did not want Facebook having any data on me).

Something I read on Techcrunch that really resonated was the argument that maybe Facebook (or big tech companies in general) is the tobacco company of our era. Will we see its negative effects for generations to come? It is clear that social networks have shaped the world we live in, and while they have brought cool stuff, I am not sure at all that these technologies are worth the negative effects we are experiencing every day. Is it really necessary that we see how other people drink a beer on Instagram? Are we really better informed about the world while browsing Twitter? What do you really learn while watching 30-second videos on TikTok?

The facebook files, on the wall street journal
Facebook knows Instagram harms teens. Now, its plan to open the app to kids looks worse than ever, on techcrunch

Bezosism my ass

It seems like there is no way of living through a week without reading negative stuff from these billionaires. A lot of good information on the piece from Wall Street Journal about how Bezos has stablished a new standard on managing your workers, achieving incredible performance (and of course, benefits). While I had read a lot of news talking about algorithms measuring the performance of workers and taking decisions on hiring/firing, I never realised about the fact that your performance is compared against the average of your peers. If you do better than average, you are fine. If your performance decreases (maybe you just had a child and are not sleeping well, maybe you have injuries because your job is shit and doing the same task for 9 hours straight should be illegal), you might lose your job in a couple of weeks. It was shocking to see that some workers really needed to dope themselves to save their jobs, which lead to everyone trying to improve their performance in an impossible loop for efficiency.

I could not stop thinking about professional cycling, where everyone seems to be so doped that many regular cyclists need to resort to illegal actions just to compete with the elite.

[…] The overall rate at which workers must complete a task in an Amazon warehouse, whether it’s putting items on shelves, taking them off, or putting them in boxes, is calculated based on the aggregate performance of everyone doing that task in a given facility, says an Amazon spokeswoman. This floating rate, Amazon argues, shows that none of its employees is being pushed beyond what’s reasonable, because that rate is something like an average of what everyone in a warehouse is already doing.[…]

[…] “If there are people who cut corners, if there are people who take tons of coffee and tons of energy drinks to go faster, that raises the cumulative rate,” says Mr. Hamilton. “Meaning, if you want to keep up with the average, then you have to cut corners and drink coffee and energy drinks at every break.”[…]

[…] A worker using the Kiva system in its early incarnations would typically triple their output, say from an average of 100 picks an hour to 300, says Mr. Mountz. But it wasn’t as if the Kiva-using companies then reduced all their warehouse employees’ hours to a third of what they once were while paying them the same wage. Instead, Staples and Walgreens, both early customers of Kiva, used their workers’ increased productivity to increase the output capacity of their warehouses; store and ship a wider range of products; shorten the amount of time required to fulfill an order, and ultimately either lower the cost of their services, increase their profits, or both. All reasons Amazon, a customer of Kiva, decided to acquire it[…]

Anyway, another mark in the legacy of Bezos, I guess.

The Way Amazon Uses Tech to Squeeze Performance Out of Workers Deserves Its Own Name: Bezosism, on the wall street journal

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

The Facebookverse, QR privacy, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#30)

I am writing this at 22:30 and its 30º with ~80% humidity. So yes, I am finally back in Spain after one year without visiting. Not sure if the following weeks there will be any updates, but let’s keep the ball rolling while we can.


Ready Facebook One

If you like cyberpunk there is a big chance you know about Snow Crash. While I am not a big fan of the book, there are many ideas floating around there that are quite interesting, and it is probably the most famous book on the genre. Some years ago we got Ready Player One (the XXI century version of the book) and it was obviously worse and almost any aspect. Even more, while I could not image any way to make it worse, we got a movie adaptation and a second book. Anyway, it seems that some billionaires are not planning to go to space, but instead they want to make that dystopia real. And coming from Zuckerberg, I can’t wait to see the shitshow Facebook is gonna build. Get ready for disaster, people.

PS: it was all fun and laughs when Epic talked about a metaverse in Fortnite during the Apple vs Epic trial, but now we start to see other companies trying to go that route. Interesting times ahead…

Facebook announces Metaverse product group headed by Instagram VP Vishal Shah, on protocol
Mark Zuckerberg Wants To Build An Online “Metaverse” Accessible On All Game Consoles, on thegamer

Hi [customer_name], nice to have you back. Do you want your usual [customer_name_usual_food]?

It seems that there are many places where you can go to eat something, and the menu is digitally implemented by using a QR-code. By doing it this way, there is no need for interaction (so that’s a good thing you might think, we have corona after all), and they also need less people working there (that’s not so good?). Oh, and one last thing: they can also sell your data / use it for marketing. What a time to be alive.

QR Codes Are Here to Stay. So Is the Tracking They Allow, on the nytimes

On China and their industry decisions

Very interesting read on what does it mean to be a tech company, what value do tech companies really produce, and how different countries might have totally different views on that.

Why is China smashing its tech industry? in noahpinion

Google doing something nice?

I see on openculture that Google has been digitizing many many paintings at astonishing resolutions. Besides being super cool to “visit” virtually, I think it might be even useful for many interesting side projects (if I find some way to download them).

A Gallery of 1,800 Gigapixel Images of Classic Paintings: See Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring, Van Gogh’s Starry Night & Other Masterpieces in Close Detail, on openculture
Google Arts and Culture

And that’s it for the week (month?). Stay safe!