Recycling masks, detective dogs, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#42)

Crazy week for many reasons, so do not expect a lot of content. Anyway, let’s go ahead:

Covid-19: bad for your lungs in many different ways

I am not gonna introduce the pandemic to anyone, but maybe some of you did not realize that besides the direct health issues that the virus brought, problems on different directions also came up. One of those is that commonly used face masks represent a big waste problem. Let’s say 30% of the population uses a single-use mask every day (I think the number is higher, but for the sake of simplicity). A country like France would use about 22 millions of masks every day. If a mask weights about 3 grams, that means every day we generate about 66.000 kg of waste. Multiply that for a whole year and you get more than 24 million tons of waste. Now run the numbers for all the countries and… you get the idea.

Up to now, I have not seen many people caring about that (most of my relatives do not even have a clue on where to deposit used masks). However, there are some persons trying to put this waste to use. The people at Bristol University catch on to the fact that the masks are mainly made from polypropylene, and this can be processed in a way that 3D printers can use it as a filament for printing stuff.

I am not sure at all this procedure is safe: in the end, masks can be tagged as bio-hazard, and going through the printer hot nozzle could be not enough to “kill” the virus. In any case, I think it is a cool project if only for pointing out a big eco problem that’s out there.


Apple and human rights

Seems impossible to get a week without news like this. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has a right to choose and practice any religion. It seems that this is wet paper for muslim people in China that tries to read the Quran on an Apple device.

What really bugs me out is not that Apple does not care at all about this (and do not get me wrong, Apple is not the only corporation that does not give a shit about people rights), is the fact that during the last few years the company has presented itself as a standard bearer of privacy, ecology, and human rights. You cannot pretend to be taken seriously if you bend the knee in China because it is the market that drives your sales. Capitalism hypocrisy at its best.

Apple removed a popular Quran app in China, on the verge

Kratos as you never saw it

Oh boy, the rumours were true. It was hinted many times that some Sony exclusive games were going to be released on PC (which means higher resolutions, frame rates, etc.). God of War was announced this week, and I hope it does really well and we get additional stuff that I would love to play (The last of Us, Ghost of Tsushima).

Sony is officially bringing God of War to PC, on the verge

Should a dog’s sniff be enough to convict a person of murder?

Amazing story on Science about the use of dogs to find dead people. This is not news at all, but the debate that brings to the table is quite interesting. Is it enough that a dog determines that there was some dead body at your place to declare you guilty of a crime?

The science behind the problem is fascinating. First, we do not know how the brain of a dog works, and for sure we do not understand how they can track a dead body even when months have passed. Second, the way the dogs are trained is up for debate, as it seems that they are influenced a lot by their trainers (even if the trainers do not realize). Dogs can read you pose, your mood, your face expressions, and even catch up to your involuntary movements. At training, all of these inputs make the dog find what you want him to find, even if there is no real “signal” (smell in this case) around.

I could not stop but thinking about how this problem relates to many different applications of machine learning that we see nowadays. Given enough complex tasks, the algorithms that people use to tackle these problems are so complex (with billions of parameters to tune) that they are essentially black boxes (as the brain of the dogs that search for dead bodies). In the same way dog training is influenced by human movements or reactions, AI training sets are influenced by the biases from the humans that build them. We have seen many problems on things like face detection where the algorithms do not detect black people or women with the same accuracy of white males, which are mainly the ones working on those tasks). There is also the problem of overfitting your data, which would be the analogy of the dog finding what you want even if it is not there.

Coming back to the article, they tell the story of a man accused of murdering his son, which was condemned mainly by the fact that a dog marked some spots near his cabin as places where the son’s remains had been. Should a black box determine if you are guilty or innocent? Should we let algorithms that we do not really understand take health or safety decisions?

THE SNIFF TEST, on science

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

Featured image: The Detective Dog, by Julia Donaldson and Sara Ogilvie

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

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


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


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!

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!

Billion dollar dreams, Stadia’s fall? and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#28)

Fully vaccinated (finally!) and one week closer to holidays. Let’s do this!

Nintendo does it again

A new screen, the worst possible name ever, an ethernet port for the dock (wow, 2021 guys), and the same broken joycons. I was not expecting 4k 120fps as some crazy people on the internet, but maybe their own videogames without frame drops? Too much to ask for, apparently.

Nintendo refuses to say if the OLED Switch fixes Joy-Con drift, on theverge
I’m skipping Nintendo Switch OLED and waiting for a Switch Pro — here’s why, on tomshardware

Wait, what? The real Switch Pro

And out of the blue, Valve decided it was time to show its own “console”. Honestly I like it, but I think there is really no market for this kind of device (and knowing how Valve operates, probably it will die in less than one year). I hope I am wrong, because I would love to this stick around and people building newer models in the future.

Steamdeck homepage
Valve’s gaming handheld is called the Steam Deck and it’s shipping in December, on theverge

I sleep in a race car bed

In less than a month, two of the most rich people in the world have been playing around with their ‘dreams’ of travelling through space. I guess they are in that period of their lives where white dudes tend to buy a sports car, but given their power they went for even bigger showing off moves. I particularly liked the piece by Meghan Bartels on, taking her time to think about what all of this really means for society (hint: not much).

As space billionaires take flight, ‘the right stuff’ for space travel enters a new era, on
Elon Musk has a ticket to ride on Richard Branson’s spaceplane, on theverge

Is this the end?

First you launch a service no one was asking for, then you close the developer studio you created to build games for your platform, then you buy a lot of temporal exclusive games for people to go to your platform. When all of that fails (what a surprise), you try to get back devs by lowering the cut you take (which was clearly abusive). Honestly I bet they are going to close the whole thing maximum in a couple years. Wait and see…

Google slashes Stadia’s revenue share to try to attract developers, on theverge

Point-and-click adventures are cool

And I played some good old Blade Runner last week. Boy, the story is so much better than the two films! If you never tried it, it is actually a fantastic game, and I did not notice a lot of gameplay problems even being such and old game (1997!). Now I am playing The Dig, which also has a very interesting story behind (but it is also quite hard). If you are interested, I stream live on twitch, and we also update the VODs later on youtube.

The good and the bad NFTs, hype trains, and more : The weekly recap (2021#24)

Conference week, which means not a lot of time to read cool stuff outside of work. However, sunshine arrived to Paris, curfew is disappearing, and summer holidays are getting closer and closer, so I will call it a win. Let’s start with the links:

So long and thanks for all the fish

You know we are doomed when videogame companies make more sense than universities. Exhibits A and B:

How scientists are embracing NFTs, on nature
Devolver Digital somehow sold an NFT that made the world less awful, on rockpapershotgun

By the way, if you have a little bit of time, the whole Devolver conference on the E3 was sublime:

The hype train was here

E3 finished, and even if the only “bomb” we got was Elden Ring, there was still a lot of cool stuff in many conferences.

There is no more room in here

I am happy to read that the OECD realized that there are less positions in academia than people getting a PhD. Jokes aside, there are some cool insights on how the future could be shaped for this small bubble that many people has no clue on how it works (maybe including many of the ones we are inside of it)

Researchers’ career insecurity needs attention and reform now, says international coalition, on nature

The weekly recap (2021#22)

Summer arrived to Paris (it only rained for two days this week). Busy schedules, but things are going nice (crossing fingers!). Let’s start with the few links I want to share this time:

Prime time

Yeah, it is super nice to receive packages the day after you buy them. This is not causing people to die working for Amazon. Keep walking, nothing to see here.

Amazon’s newest euphemism for overworked employees is ‘industrial athlete’, on theverge
Amazon Calls Warehouse Workers ‘Industrial Athletes’ in Leaked Wellness Pamphlet, on vice

Also, I think is a super good idea to let the same company build its own mass surveillance network. What could go wrong?

Amazon US customers have one week to opt out of mass wireless sharing, on the guardian

Another round of “first image of…” from the Curiosity rover. This time, clouds in Mars. Could not help but stop and look marbled by the colours of the Martian sky (I always pictured the surface as a red desert with a very limited colour palette).

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Captures Shining Clouds on Mars, on NASA

Unreal 5 is here

And it looks amazing. It is always nice to see the technical aspects of videogames, and this video shows a little bit of that. Easter egg: temporal super-resolution being implemented in mainstream tools! Can’t wait to see more of this engine during the E3.

That’s it for the week. Stay safe!