The Amazon’s gambit, China’s pre-criminals, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#41)

Not many news this week (mainly due to having so little time to read), but quite interesting topics. Let’s start!


This is nice. I will sell it from now on

Something I’ve heard many times before, but now with some exhibits. If you are selling something on Amazon and have quite some success, prepare to be copied by Amazon, then you will be removed from the search results (which will show first the Amazon version), and of course you will be out-priced (what did you expect, Amazon can build stuff cheaper than you do).

The people at Reuters wrote a very thoughtful piece showing these practices in India. I recommend the read, but I think the most important thing you can do is really think about where you buy your stuff. Where do you want to place your money, on the original creators of some product, or on the company of the man that wants to burn money going into space for fun, while its workers are being exploited?

As a last note, I could not help but think on how terrible it is when you, as a company or a creator, loose the control over your business or the content you create. This applies to so many aspects of our current lives. What happens when all your Youtube/Twitch/TikTok videos get removed without notice? What happens when you stop selling your goods through your store and Amazon ends destroying your business? How about posting all your texts on your Facebook page? Do you like storing your pictures on the cloud? Nice, we will use them to train our AI algorithms. Please, stop gifting your stuff to billion dollar companies.

Amazon copied products and rigged search results to promote its own brands, documents show, on reuters


How Slack changed the world

Really interesting article on how a single app can change so many social/professional interactions. We saw the same some time ago with instant messaging services (Whatsapp, etc.). However, they are right that it might be the first time a business-oriented service has changed so many things. It is super easy now to work remotely with many people. We have almost stopped sending e-mails, which is a big thing (although I still like the good things that asynchronous communication brings to the table). Also, Slack has gathered workers together in a way that is quite hard to control for employers. Before, it was quite difficult to know which were the problems of some of your co-workers (specially on really big companies). Now, you can easily message with people in different departments, or even with branches in other countries, without your boss even noticing.

We have recently seen how people working at big tech companies have rallied on Slack to complain about their work environment. Nowadays, it is very easy to ask co-workers doing your same job how much money do they earn, which has also raised protests. However, not everything has been so nice. Instant messaging apps can make very difficult to disconnect from work, thus generating burnout in the mid/long run. Also, usually you have these apps installed on your personal devices, and it is not nice to get notifications in the middle of the night or during the weekend, because not all the people share the same work schedules…

SLACKERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!, on the atlantic


Saga is finally coming back

One of the coolest SciFi comic books I have read in a while is coming back soon, and we will have a good ride till the end, with another 54 issues. I can’t wait!!!

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga Returns in January 2022, on tor.com


Just have a seat, pre-criminal

This is a terribly sad story, but I think the best we can do is to share, so everyone gets to know how some countries treat their own civilians. With the excuse of controlling infected from Covid-19, China has been using face recognition software to oppress minorities (Uyghurs in this case). You can always think that there are some terrible places doing stuff like this, but until you read the stories, you never know how real they can be.

It is also worth noticing that the same technology used in China is being developed both in Europe and the US, so the future does not look very bright, I’m afraid.

For sure, I know that this book will be one of my following reads.

The covid tech that is intimately tied to China’s surveillance state, on the MIT technology review

In The Camps: China’s High-Tech Penal Colony, by Columbia Global Reports


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!

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!

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

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!