The weekly recap (2021#19)

Busy week, but somehow I managed to find some cool stuff to share. Let’s start:

Apple vs Epic, the trial that keeps on giving

I am getting low on popcorn reserves. Lots of documents and insights on how both companies operate. I particularly enjoyed seeing how much money Epic paid for its exclusives (I am very happy for some developers there tbh). Here are some links & tweets, in case you are interested on the topic:

Epic wanted Sony’s PlayStation PC games to compete with Steam, documents show, on theverge
Epic Games trial reveals Apple negotiations with Netflix, Facebook and Microsoft, on cnbc
Epic’s Years-Long Plan to Paint Itself as Gaming’s Good Guy, on wired
Apple needs to show iOS allows competition… while justifying locking it down, on theverge

Nice view on how the advances in AI are shaping the world we are living on. What happens when state-of-the-art research is funded/developed by the army, which operates by its own logic? I see clouds ahead of us…

Stop the emerging AI cold war, on nature

Good doggo

This reminded me of that cool scene in Prometheus (what a terrible movie btw) where the geologist maps the entire caverns by using a couple small flying balls. We do not have flying mapping spheres (yet), but it seems that the Boston Dynamics robots are getting to work on the idea…

Researchers’ new best friend? Robot dog gets to work, on techxplore

The month in images

Another month, another set of incredibly cool science-related images, gathered by Nature. Honestly, it has been terribly difficult to pick just one image for the recap. Actually, I could not help but add another one as the header of the post…

Black holes, buckyballs and boxing hares — April’s best science images, on nature

Tesla & Bitcoin

Not long ago Elon Musk wrote on twitter that Tesla would start accepting Bitcoin as a payment. As usual, his tweets provoked movements on the stock market. This week, Tesla announced that they would not accept Bitcoin unless its infrastructure goes green. I don’t know what worries me more, the fact that Musk could not know how bad e-coins are for the environment, the fact that reducing the transportation environmental footprint is literally what Tesla sells as their leitmotiv (a greener world using their electric cars), or that he could have done it just to get a bit richer. Anyway, what I always like to say in these situations: welcome to the XXI century.

Renewable energy won’t make Elon Musk love bitcoin again, on theverge

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.