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!

Evading scientific stalemates

This week I have been thinking about a strange thing that happened in my research group. One day while I was doing my MSc, me and my colleagues we were discussing some lab results. A small change on our experimental setup provided much better images than the ones we were getting up to that point. This change, even though small, was puzzling at first. It was counter-intuitive. We quickly realized why it was improving our measurements. However, this was not the important thing. By doing that small change, our system, which at the time was just simply an imaging system, seemed to be able to tackle much more difficult experimental scenarios. We thought that we had discovered a new property of the systems we were developing. We were right.

After that initial idea, we quickly designed some experiments to verify our initial guesses. Everything seemed to work, but we were not 100% sure why. We had some general ideas, some intuitions. Our plan was to keep doing some experiments while we figured all the details. We published some papers and started thinking big. This approach could be applied to real scenarios. We started collaborating with some other groups and in the end we developed a real-life system in collaboration with them. That was published in a very good journal.

However, even though we figured out the bugging details we had at the beginning, we were never able to build a model that allowed us to predict or at least to conjecture about what could be the limits of our technique.

Fast forward ~3 years to today. We have a meeting planned for next week to discuss why our latest experiments are not providing the results we expected. After months of PhD (and MSc) students work, we are at a stalemate. Some days it seems that we are close to change something in the lab that will yield the expected improvement. Some days, after hundreds of trials, everything remains the same. Given the lack of a physical model to hold to, the group is searching with a blindfold, and I don’t think this is working at all.

If I had to make a prediction right now, I would say that the research line is dead (long live the research line!). It shouldn’t be dramatic, it is just science (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t). However, during all this process, several students joined the group and started their MSc’s and PhD’s on the topic. This could be dramatic for them. During all this time, I have been working in quite a lot of different stuff. I missed some publications, which hurt my CV. However, when something did not work, I always had different stuff to try. I think I have a wider scope of my field because of that. In the end, I have published more than enough to write my thesis.

I guess that’s a good practice: never put all your eggs in the same basket. You need to have hundreds of ideas to get a good one. Take your time to explore them, and build strong foundations where new people can construct upon without fear of falling down.