Thursday 27 May, 2021

I haven’t worn a suit (or tie) for 14 months, so getting ready yesterday evening for the first College dinner since last March meant re-learning old skills. Like how to knot a tie! It turned out to be a really nice evening, with colleagues who haven’t met in person for at least a year gathered round a table, exchanging gossip and ideas.

It was also a reminder that Zoom is a mighty bloodless substitute for life, as Charles Lamb might have said.

Quote of the Day

”To eat well in England you should have a breakfast three times a day.”

  • Somerset Maugham

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

The Traveling Wilburys | End Of The Line


Long Read of the Day

The Fall of the House of Gates?

Fully reckoning with Bill Gates means not just focusing on how he treats women—vital as that is—but also confronting our own deep-seated worship of wealth and hardwired belief in hero narratives. By Tim Schwab Link

Galaxy Upcycling: How Samsung Ruined Their Best Idea in Years

By Kevin Purdy of iFixit.

This is a great story — of how Samsung had a great idea for making use of older smartphones and reducing waste, and how it fizzled out. The imperative to planned obsolescence and corporate conservatism triumphed.

“There is another way to create even more value” than recycling, Samsung said in a video at the time. “It’s called upcycling.” With code and creativity, upcycling could turn a Galaxy S5 into a smart fish tank monitor, a controller for all your smart home devices, a weather station, a nanny cam, or lots more. Upcycling not only kept your old phone from being shredded or stuck in junk-drawer purgatory, it could keep you from buying more single-purpose devices. It was a smart way to reduce our collective upgrade guilt.

We were so excited, in fact, that when Samsung asked us to help launch the product in the fall of 2017, we jumped at the chance. You’ll see iFixit’s name and logo all over Samsung’s original Galaxy Upcycling materials. Samsung, a company without much of a public environmental message, was tossing around big ideas born at a grassroots level. This was something new. We were jazzed, and after validating the concept with working code in our labs, lent our name and credibility to the effort.

But sometimes well-intentioned projects get muzzled inside giant companies. The version of Galaxy Upcycling that finally launched, four years later, is nearly unrecognizable. It makes Samsung seem like a company that hit its head and lost all memory of an idea that would really make a difference for their customers and the planet.

The original Upcycling announcement had huge potential. The purpose was twofold: unlock phones’ bootloaders—which would have incidentally assisted other reuse projects like LineageOS—and foster an open source marketplace of applications for makers. You could run any operating system you wanted. It could have made a real dent in the huge and ever-growing e-waste problem by giving older Samsung devices some value (no small feat, that). It was a heck of a lot more interesting than the usual high-level pledges from device makers about carbon offsets and energy numbers.

Sigh. Pity.

AI emotion-detection software is being tested on Uyghurs

BBC report

A camera system that uses AI and facial recognition intended to reveal states of emotion has been tested on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the BBC has been told.

A software engineer claimed to have installed such systems in police stations in the province.

A human rights advocate who was shown the evidence described it as shocking.

Xinjiang is home to 12 million ethnic minority Uyghurs, most of whom are Muslim.

Citizens in the province are under daily surveillance. The area is also home to highly controversial “re-education centres”, called high security detention camps by human rights groups, where it is estimated that more than a million people have been held.

This isn’t just a Chinese story: there are tech companies in the West which are experimenting with this technology. When I mentioned this to a sceptical acquaintance he assumed I was pulling his leg. So, in a sense, one good thing about China at the moment is that it provides a demonstration that the fears some of us have about machine-learning are not the nightmares of technophobes, but concerns about real technology that is already in use for sinister purposes.

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