Tsunami’s magnetic fields, AI dungeons, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#51)

Already back home, resting with the family. Not going to lie: while I enjoy writing this a lot, do not expect very extended takes on some of the news for a couple weeks, as my brain is officially on holidays. Let’s start:

Detecting a Tsunami by using magnetism

Classic news that I read and say “yeah, this totally makes sense”, but never really crossed my mind. Instead of looking at how sea level grows when a tsunami is happening, it is actually possible to just look at the magnetic field that the water generates while moving (you know, as charged particles moving generate a magnetic field when you study physics 101). The cool thing here is that you can detect the event even before the water level rises, so this could help avoid deaths when tsunamis occur close to urban areas.

Tsunamis’ magnetic fields are detectable before sea level change, on phys.org

AI in gaming: this is how I like it

Imagine a game that is completely different every time you play it. It is also different for each person playing it, and learns the stuff you like, and how much action, story, or cool visuals it needs to generate for you to have the best possible experience. It creates totally unique and curated stories for you, and has endless replayability. This is exactly what the people at AI Dungeon want to develop. I had a short experience with AI Dungeon 2 this year, and while “just” being a conversational adventure, I had a lot of fun. Of course, there are a lot of rough edges to polish, and the pitfalls about what kind of content the AI algorithms can or should generate will always be there (we should be extremely careful about that, and it feels like a topic that not many people care about).

Still, I really like the idea of exploring these novel tools on the videogame medium. Can’t wait to see what kind of games we will have in a decade.

AI Dungeon’s creators are launching an experimental AI-powered game platform, on the verge

5⭐ this

I’ve already shared the news about Apple working shoulder-to-shoulder with the Chinese government: you do as I say, and I let you sell your stuff in one of the biggest markets in the globe. The problem comes when the government peeks into people’s privacy, or commits genocide. Still, those seem to be minor things that we should not worry about, or at least it seems that it is for a growing list of companies, which Amazon is part of. Manipulating search results? We are experts on that. Cherry-picking 5⭐ reviews? No problemo, we also know how to do that. We just want to sell our cloud services in return.

Funniest thing is that Amazon says it is just a matter of free speech. Is it almost as good as the privacy motto from Apple.

Special Report: Amazon partnered with China propaganda arm, on reuters

🔥🔥🔥 🦆🦆🦆 🔥🔥🔥

2020 sucked, and though 2021 has been better, it still sucked in many ways. However, there has been a constant over the past few years, which is Maduk doing these amazing mixes with the best from the drum’n’bass genre. He also did a couple sessions during the confinement that particularly helped me not going completely insane. Kudos to him, and I hope we can enjoy these forever (and for live concerts to be a thing again in the near future).

Is there any hope left in the MCU?

I’ve grown quite tired of the MCU during the past few years, but Dr. Strange is one of my favourite characters from the comics (I still remember Triumph and Torment from time to time, and its been years since I read it) , and the first movie had super cool visuals. Moreover, Benedict Cumberbatch is freaking amazing, and it seems there will be at least two of them on this. Plus Scarlet Witch. Crossing fingers for this being a good movie. Please. Please please please.

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

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

The Unity of the ring, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#45)

Super nice week where the only screen I used was the one protecting me from the sun. Ran a half-marathon using summer clothes, ate paella and empanadillas de pisto, saw family and friends. I read a couple books and saw some movies, too. I call it a win.

Just a couple links that I could not help but read:

Another success for academic publishing

Let’s get over this one more time. First, you write your projects and ask for money to develop them. You find the scientists, you hire and also train them. You buy all the equipment, and do the actual research (which sometimes works, but most of the time it does not). After some years, you might have enough data and results to share with the community, which you do by writing a paper. You write it, you prepare the images, you do all the styling and formatting. After that, you send it to a journal, which decides if your results are interesting enough for other researchers. If that’s the case, they send it to a couple scientists for them to review your work. They neither pay those researchers nor the editorial work (which is also done by another experienced scientist). After a couple rounds of revision, if you are lucky enough, they finally accept to publish your paper. You still do some more formatting work, and after that you get a preprint file, in which you still look for grammatical and/or graphical mistakes, which you also correct. Finally, after everything is looking perfect, you pay again (depending on the journal, from ~2k to ~8k €) and they publish the paper. IF you paid enough, the paper will be open access (so everyone will be able to read it for free), otherwise, people will have to pay again to read it.

And yet, after all this nonsense, publishers are getting scammed by people who manage to publish rubbish papers on their “prestigious” journals. Bravo. I guess their solution will involve asking for scientists to check for this without paying them.

Scammers impersonate guest editors to get sham papers published, on nature

Videogames > movies

Exhibit number 13545621. It still amazes me how video games have taken over almost all the entertainment industry by now. Even though I have always preferred this media over films and tv shows, I really never thought that the mainstream would finally end embracing the medium. However, news like this show how video game companies are starting to take over more traditional (even though highly technical) ones. Expect similar movements in the near future, and also the “old” companies going into game development (Netflix already did a couple months ago).

Unity to pay $1.6 billion for The Lord of the Rings VFX maker Weta Digital, on the verge

Peter Jackson Sells Weta Tech Assets to Unity for $1.62B, on the Hollywood reporter

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

Godzilla vs Kong: some of the science behind

Recently I saw Godzilla vs Kong. I was expecting a lot of action between those two, and the movie delivered (in fact, there was not much else to see there). While is was a nice action movie to turn your brain off, there were some things that I really liked in the way they portrayed a great ape such as Kong. I am not going to enter in the topic on how big both Godzilla and Kong are, and if that is realistic or not. I already discussed the topic on cienciaoficcion.com some time ago (in Spanish).

There were two things that I liked that might be not so well-known for a lot of people: Kong using sign language and an axe. I am going to cover both in this article.

Great Apes Using Sign Language

While there are many videos on monkeys using sign language, I find the topic extremely interesting because as of today there is no clear consensus on whether great apes are really using language or they just learn some meaning by repetition/observation. In the movie, we can clearly see Kong communicating with a deaf girl, and those scenes seemed totally plausible to me (of course, just taking into account the communication process, and not the gigantic ape thing).

This is something that has been studied for decades now, and there seems to be a lot of data that indicates that there is something else besides imitation/repetition. You can see some examples of the actions that a great ape can do in the following links:

The Chimp That Learned Sign Language, on NPR.com
Great Ape Language, on wikipedia.org

Monkeys using tools

The second cool thing I want to talk about is how Kong throws a spear or swings an axe (and it really looks cool on the movie).

We can even see how he builds the spear by removing the branches of a big tree, and also how he sharpens one of the extremes. This exact behaviour has been widely reported on several primates. Of course, not for destroying a giant dome, but just to hunt for food or to collect water. You can see some really nice examples on the following videos, and some pictures on how a bonobo uses a hand-made stick to hunt for termites.

And that’s it for the film. Of course there is much more there that’s cool to see (I am not going to make any spoilers here), and while some might see it and never think about it afterwards, it is a cool movie to watch and not think about anything else for a couple hours, which given current state of the world is something to thank for, I think.

The weekly recap (2021#15)

Crazy things happening in the world this week. The header image of this post (well, the one in the header is a copy) was sold for $1.36 million. This NFT stuff still goes over my head, but seems like is something that will stick around, whether it really makes sense to burn energy this way… anyway, all hail capitalism I guess. There have been quite a lot of news on the topic, if you are interested[1,2,3]

MindPong revisited

Really cool video from P. Nuyujukian, going into all the details of the latest advances shown by Neuralink last week. It really was like watching a movie director’s cut.

Look at that one!

Astonishing collection of science-related images, made by Nature each month

Brace yourselves, they are coming

I knew at some they would stop dancing…

The French army is testing Boston Dynamics’ robot dog Spot in combat scenarios, on theverge.com

The end of paywalls on papers?

It seems we crossed the point of no return in going open-access, but is is not clear at all which is going to be the final model. An interesting debate is ongoing, as many institutions are pushing for making every public research publicly available, but that often interferes with journal publishers. You can read a nice piece on the topic here:

A guide to Plan S: the open-access initiative shaking up science publishing, on nature.com

Technologies that shaped music

Really cool video by Rick Beato on 20 inventions that revolutionized music. While I would have added some (I cannot believe mp3 and microphones did not make into the list!), the video is a nice take on the history of music.

Get out of here, stalker!

The film that keeps on giving. OpenCulture posted this week a video I did not know about on the history behind the movie. Really interesting.

The Story of Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Troubled (and Even Deadly) Sci-Fi Masterpiece, on openculture.com

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