Carlos Fenollosa

Carlos Fenollosa

Engineer, developer, entrepreneur

Carlos Fenollosa — Blog

Thoughts on science and tips for researchers who use computers

Links for 2019-09-29: We live in a cyberpunk future

September 29, 2019 — Carlos Fenollosa

This week has a lot of "holy crap we live in the future" news so I decided to start this new format where every roundup has a main topic.

After them we will jump to our usual medley of programming + geeky stuff.

In the end you will find some follow-up of past topics.

Hope that you like it!

Boston Dynamics

Latest from Boston Dynamics (1 min)

What a perfect video to start this compilation with.

Just watch it:

Now, close your jaw, and choose one reaction:

  • Amazing!
  • Terrifying!

(Yes, it's both)

Facial recognition in the EU

No es China, es Madrid: el pago facial llega en fase de pruebas a los autobuses de la EMT
(Spanish link: "This is not China, it's Madrid: facial payment tests launch on metropolitan buses", 1 min)

After the initial shock, we should actually ask ourselves whether facial payments are more or less private than paying with a personal card. After all, you're being tracked nonetheless.

In any case, this is the future we're moving towards: more convenient, less anonymous.

Government backdoors on chat apps

Facebook, WhatsApp Will Have to Share Messages With U.K. Police (1 min, via)

As usual, the title is heavily editorialized and I recommend reading the HN discussion to understand the actual situation.

Regardless of the news, it is worrying that governments want to force chat apps to share user conversations with the police. The real question is, will they ban encryption at some point? Will this decision be clear to the user, i.e. will we know that our conversations are no longer secure, and therefore be more restrained in what we share? Or will they lie to us and just install backdoors that silently spy on our texts without our knowledge?

This is a truly worrying trend.

AI playing hide and seek

Emergent Tool Use from Multi-Agent Interaction (5 min, via) presents a paper and a video of a multi-agent AI system evolving strategies to play hide and seek with a few spatial tools like ramps, barriers and boxes.

Check out the video, it's quite interesting, especially the fact that hiders collaborate amongst them to build forts, and seekers find unexpected uses for their tools, like jumping on top of boxes.

Multi-agent goal-seeking is not new, but it is a great way to discover algorithms and strategies that we had not previously thought of.

Functional programming in Python

Learn Functional Python in 10 Minutes (10 min, via) is a good overview of lambdas, map, reduce, filter and others.

Every good Python programmer should know these.

Review of chat systems

Thoughts on improving chat systems (5 min to RH, via) reviews open chat systems (IRC, XMPP, Matrix) and compares them to other established protocols and apps.

Unfortunately, the dream of having A Unified Chat System was only true for a couple years when both Google and Facebook supported XMPP, but then it went away.

Chats are siloed now, and it doesn't look like this is going to change soon :(

Look at the night sky

See a Satellite Tonight. No Telescope Required (5 min, needs JS, via) is a webapp that helps you spot satellites and the ISS traveling through your location.

see the ISS

I saw the ISS last Friday, since it was passing near Barcelona on a 73° angle, almost optimal to watch.

It was amazingly minimalistic. You see a small white dot darting through the sky; you know it is just a very fast plane, but looks like a star.

After three minutes it was gone. There they go, there are people in that small dot, orbiting the Earth. It is an incredible feeling.

Go ahead, look at the night sky today, and admire both the stars, the planets, and human-made orbital bodies.

This webapp even gives you a street view of the satellites so you know exactly where to look at in the sky. Amazing!

street view of the ISS

Quitting social media

On I Quit Social Media for a Year and Nothing Magical Happened (5 min, via) and its follow-up Having a Social Life Without Social Media (2 min), Josh C. Simmons explains what happened after he decided to quit Facebook and Instagram.

I agree with the author's premises: quit social media and you will be happier and have more time to work on productive tasks.

The detailed mental phases he went through are interesting, though. He realized that he was taking most pictures with the intent of sharing them and, now that he had no social network to share them on, he just stopped taking them. Another one is that when you no longer get "life updates" through social media, you have more things to talk about when you face-meet your friends.

A good read overall, not your typical "FB sucks I am quitting" argument you see plastered over Reddit.

If you want to read more on the topic, I have written about social media extensively in the past: how I missed Facebook after quitting it, why it was a good move (for the company) to buy WhatsApp and Instagram, and why the "Like" culture is just a reflection of human nature

More on Firefox and DoH

Turn off DoH, Firefox. Now. (5 min, via) and especially Centralised DoH is bad for privacy, in 2019 and beyond (5 min, via) explain why the Firefox-Cloudflare integration is a bad idea much better than I did and also provide information on how to disable it.

After reading arguments on both sides, I stand by my initial reaction: this is a bad idea because it centralizes DNS, which ought to be a decentralized service.

To add insult to the injury, it sends that traffic to a country with no privacy laws and a provider who leaked HTTPS data in the past.

Sorry, Mozilla, but the cons overwhelm the pros.

Tracking you with TV ads

Is your smartphone listening to everything you say? We asked the experts (2017, 5 min, via) alerts (emphasis mine):

Last year the CDT alerted the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to a technology called SilverPush. It uses audio beacons to track your activities across devices:

Your TV emits a tone during a commercial break, a tone that’s inaudible to you, but your phone is listening for it. Now they can link the TV and phone as belonging to the same person.

Make sure you can trust your phone—and your friend's.

Remember that you are always talking near a microphone connected to the internet.

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