24 October 2020

LensWork: “LW1206 – Video invades Photography”

But in terms of using the medium to create a personally expressive art statement I just don’t see much in common between photography and video, either from the producer’s point of view and particularly from the consumers point of view. So, I guess it kind of feels to me like this convergence in the hybrid world between video and photography is something that’s happening in the history of photography because of the drive of manufacturers to do something, not because of the demand of photographers, not because of the demand of consumers, that there could just as easily be something out there that was a video camera that didn’t do stills, which by the way that exists, there’s a whole world of video cameras that don’t do stills, or if they do stills, it’s a secondary feature that hardly anybody uses.

But video has invaded still photography to the point where it’s almost unavoidable.

Try going to Canon and asking them for the newest latest camera they have that does not have video capabilities. There isn’t one. Same can be said with all the manufacturers. Video has invaded photography.

Brooks Jensen

I rarely write about podcasts on my blog, but in this case I listened to this episode from the LensWork podcast and it reminded me on my own frustration around this topic. Just like Brooks, I have next to no interest for shooting video and I use my camera almost exclusively for (still) photography. The reason may well be that, like Brooks, I picked up photography long ago, in the film era, when cameras were dedicated to this single purpose. But aside from that, photography for me is about the fascination of a moment captured for ever, a fixed reflection of a world in constant motion – you might even say that the camera captures something that does not truly exist, because we experience the world as a never-ending flow, not as a series of snapshots. In contrast, video seems just a reproduction of reality, a repetition that does not add anything of interest, and I would rather experience more of the world than repeat my past memories.

Ars Technica: “Definitely not Windows 95: What operating systems keep things running in space?”

We’ve got extremely demanding requirements for this mission, says Maria Hernek, head of flight software systems section at ESA. Typically, rebooting the platform such as this takes roughly 40 seconds. Here, we’ve had 50 seconds total to find the issue, have it isolated, have the system operational again, and take recovery action.

To reiterate: this operating system, located far away in space, needs to remotely reboot and recover in 50 seconds. Otherwise, the Solar Orbiter is getting fried.

To deal with such unforgiving deadlines, spacecraft like Solar Orbiter are almost always run by real-time operating systems that work in an entirely different way than the ones you and I know from the average laptop. The criteria by which we judge Windows or macOS are fairly simple. They perform a computation, and if the result of this computation is correct, then a task is considered to be done correctly. Operating systems used in space add at least one more central criterion: a computation needs to be done correctly within a strictly specified deadline. When a deadline is not met, the task is considered failed and terminated. And in spaceflight, a missed deadline quite often means your spacecraft has already turned into a fireball or strayed into an incorrect orbit. There’s no point in processing such tasks any further; things must adhere to a very precise clock.

Jacek Krywko

Fascinating article about the software managing robotic missions, from their strict requirements to their conception and history – and a few stories where they inadvertently failed. Their development started, maybe not entirely surprising, with US military programs designing guidance systems for missiles. Over time, just as in the desktop and mobile space, the market largely settled on two competing operating systems, the proprietary VxWorks preferred by NASA and open source RTEMS employed by ESA. And their next iteration may involve… Bitcoin?!

22 October 2020

No Mercy / No Malice: “AirbnBaller”

There are good companies that are overvalued (Tesla, Snowflake), good businesses whose emissions are bad for society (Facebook, Twitter), and firms that are just a menace (Uber). There are also firms that are all three (Palantir). However, occasionally there is a firm that is so gangster even I can’t help but see the glass as half empty, vs. empty. The most valuable private firm in America is Airbnb.

I believe this time next year, Airbnb will be the most valuable hospitality firm in the world and one of the world’s 10 strongest brands.

Ride hailing requires local supply (drivers) and demand (hailers). Hotels need local supply (hotel rooms) and regional demand (guests). But a global hotel brand requires both local supply and global demand, as guests are from all over the world. Airbnb has global supply, boasting more than 7 million listings worldwide — more than Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide, InterContinental Hotels Group, Wyndham Hotel Group, and Hyatt Hotels, combined. More impressive, and singular, Airbnb is the only hospitality brand that has the global awareness to generate unrivaled demand.

In 2021, there will be more Airbnb users in the U.S. than people in California.

Scott Galloway

I am highly skeptical about this prediction, and I think it relies on several flawed assumptions and hasty conclusions. Airbnb may have a great global brand, but its supply is just as ‘local’ as the hotels it competes with – it’s not like you can substitute rooms in the city you plan on visiting with accommodation in a different random location. This supply is outside its immediate control to a large extent, as the listed properties are owned by private persons, not the company itself. If the owners decide to rent through other intermediaries, Airbnb has no way to prevent them, to my knowledge. The article conveniently ignores occupancy rates, which could skew the numbers below in favor of hotels. Another threat here are local regulations, which may reduce the available properties substantially, or force higher prices, more in line with hotel listings.

The New York Times: “The Problem of Free Speech in an Age of Disinformation”

But the Supreme Court has strongly protected hate speech. In 1992, the Supreme Court unanimously said that the City of St. Paul could not specially punish, as a hate crime, the public burning of a cross or the display of a swastika. In 2011, in an 8-to-1 vote, the court said the government could not stop members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas from picketing military funerals across the nation to protest what they perceived to be the government’s tolerance of homosexuality by holding signs like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”. Speech can inflict great pain, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.

In 2012, by a 6-to-3 vote in United States v. Alvarez, the court provided some constitutional protection for an individual’s intentional lies, at least as long as they don’t cause serious harm. The majority said that the mere potential for government censorship casts a chill the First Amendment cannot permit if free speech, thought and discourse are to remain a foundation of our freedom.

By requiring the state to treat alike categories of speakers — corporations and individuals — the Supreme Court began to go far beyond preventing discrimination based on viewpoint or the identity of an individual speaker. Once a defense of the powerless, the First Amendment over the last hundred years has mainly become a weapon of the powerful, MacKinnon, now a law professor at the University of Michigan, wrote in “The Free Speech Century”, a 2018 essay collection. Instead of radicals, artists and activists, socialists and pacifists, the excluded and the dispossessed, she wrote, the First Amendment now serves authoritarians, racists and misogynists, Nazis and Klansmen, pornographers and corporations buying elections. In the same year, Justice Elena Kagan warned that the court’s conservative majority was weaponizing the First Amendment in the service of corporate interests, in a dissent to a ruling against labor unions.

Emily Bazelon

Earlier this year I set out to stay away from topics regarding American politics and society, at least for a while, but I found this article pretty interesting and going to the heart of the problem. I agree with many of the conclusions presented here, as I already wrote in my article about the TikTok potential ban. As things stands, I seems to me that lying has more protections in the US than telling the truth! When people spread lies they can easily find others to agree with them and spread the message; when someone tells the truth it can be met with harassment and online attacks – which are also protected speech, so you can do very little about it (legally).

21 October 2020

AAAS Science: “Critics of Sweden’s lax pandemic policies face fierce backlash”

The Swedish approach has its fans. Protesters against coronavirus-related restrictions in Berlin in late August waved Swedish flags. In the United States, a prominent member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, neuroradiologist Scott Atlas, has cited Sweden as a model to follow. The policies also have widespread public support in Sweden, where consensus is prized and criticism of the government is rare.

But within Sweden’s scientific and medical community, a debate about the strategy has simmered and frequently boiled over—in the opinion pages of newspapers, within university departments, and among hospital staff. A group of scientists known as “the 22” has called for tougher measures since April, when it published a blistering critique of the country’s public health authority, the Folkhälsomyndigheten (FoHM). The group, which has grown to include 50 scientists and another 150 supporting members, now calls itself the Vetenskapsforum COVID-19 (Science Forum COVID-19).

The group’s criticism has not been welcomed—indeed, some of the critics say they have been pilloried or reprimanded. It has been so, so surreal, says Nele Brusselaers, a member of the Vetenskapsforum and a clinical epidemiologist at the prestigious Karolinska Institute (KI). It is strange, she says, to face backlash even though we are saying just what researchers internationally are saying. It’s like it’s a different universe.

Gretchen Vogel

For people loudly defending Sweden’s distinctive approach to the pandemic – even though it resulted in high casualties, especially among the old – this article should make it clear that it is not without opposition inside the country. Weirdly enough, the policy and its main proponent, Dr. Anders Tegnell, remain popular with the Swedish public, despite several changes and backtracking along the way. As the article notes, Sweden’s consensus culture could partially explain this situation, where citizens refrain from criticizing the government and view those who publicly speak against it in a negative light.

20 October 2020

Financial Times: “Covid-19: The global crisis — in data”

Yet for all the patterns that appear in the data, the resurgence also demonstrates the outsized role seemingly played by random chance in the story of Covid-19. When Italy avoided a second wave in the late summer, many pointed to its high levels of mask-wearing as a contributory factor. And indeed, only one country has higher levels of mask-wearing than Italy. That country’s identity? Spain, home to the worst second wave of the continent.

But there is room for hope as the world attempts to stave off a bitter Covid-19 winter. Mortality rates from the virus have fallen over the course of the year as healthcare expertise and technology have improved. In March, somebody aged 70 or above had a 50:50 chance of survival if admitted to hospital with the virus. By August their chances had climbed to 74 per cent.

Leaders have vacillated between reopening to protect the economy and locking back down to protect citizens. Yet recent analysis suggests that this may well be a false trade-off.

FT Visual & Data Journalism team

Interesting and extensive series of visualizations about the coronavirus pandemic from the Financial Times. I found the graph below especially revealing: while the correlation is not particularly strong, it is clear that overall countries with larger death counts have also experienced heavier economic recessions. This indicates that protecting citizens from this disease and economic recovery are not mutually exclusive and should be treated as a common goal.

19 October 2020

Adobe Blog: “Adobe unveils ambitious multi-year vision for PDF: Introduces Liquid Mode”

Building on this continued momentum, today we’re excited to unveil Liquid Mode — the first step in a multi-year vision to fundamentally change the way people consume digital documents, and how organizations extract document intelligence to gain a competitive advantage. Leveraging the power of Adobe Sensei — our cutting-edge AI framework — to understand the structure of PDFs, we have begun to reimagine how people read and interact with digital documents, starting with reinventing mobile productivity beyond the 8.5x11 page.

With the push of a button, Liquid Mode automatically reformats text, images, and tables for quick navigation and consumption on small screens. Powered by Adobe Sensei, Liquid Mode uses AI and machine learning in the background to understand and identify parts of a PDF, like headings, paragraphs, images, lists, tables, and more. It also attempts to understand the hierarchy and ordering of those parts to reformat a static PDF into a more dynamic and customizable experience.

Ashley Still

I mean… sure, making PDF files more responsive and accessible on mobile screens is a good initiative, but why do you need AI and machine learning to read the structure of a document?! Websites built on standard HTML have been doing that basically from inception. While PDF is a proprietary format, it is owned and built be Adobe, so… they cannot understand their own document format without building an AI for the task?! This announcement reads like it was written to promote Adobe Sensei and buzzwords like AI and machine learning, not to launch an interesting new feature for customers.