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Charting the similarity of summer songs

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Popular summer songs have had a bubbly, generic feel to them the past several years, but it wasn’t always like that. Styles used to be more diverse, and things might be headed back in that direction. Sahil Chinoy and Jessia Ma charted song fingerprints over the years for a musical comparison.

Turn up your speakers or put on your headphones for the full experience. The song and music video snippets provide a much better idea of what the charts represent.

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Calculating wind drag in the cycling peloton

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When cyclists ride in that big pack during a race — the peloton — the ones that aren’t leading get to ride with a reduced wind resistance. Researchers found out the magnitude of the reduction.

Joshua Robinson for The Wall Street Journal:

According to a new study published in the Journal of Wind Engineering and Industrial Aerodynamics, riders in the belly of a peloton are exposed to 95% less drag than they would experience riding alone. Which explains the sensation all riders describe of being sucked along by the bunch while barely having to pedal.

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AfterLife

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AfterLife

AfterLife

Welcome, the clockwork corpse says, to AfterLife.

Still the same booming voice after all these years. I first visited AfterLife with my mom and dad when I was seven. I remember looking up in wonder at the strange half-robot man, seeing through his glass-panel chest into the gears and pipes which made his taxidermied body stretch his arms out and bellow, I am Ozzy Clarke, the founder of this Museum.

Then looked down, the camera in his eye recognizing the twinkle in mine, and he knelt level to me and asked: Who is this magnificent young lady?

My mom gave me a nudge, so I told the man, “My name's Mu. I'm seven years old, and when I grow up I want to be a game designer!” In the present day: my name's Mary, I'm fifty years old, and I'm a financial analyst. Right now, Ozzy is telling me the history of AfterLife. I've heard the speech dozens of times, and it gets better each time. Ozzy uses a genetic algorithm: he gives several variants on the same speech, and selects the best speeches based on how many smiles his camera detects. This way, his speech can evolve with the times, words and sentences competing in the survival of the funnest. Decades after his death, Ozzy Clarke is still improving his art.

At the end of his speech, Ozzy opens the gates, and I follow him in.

The corpse orchestra begins to play. They all used to be world-class virtuosos. When I first saw them as a kid, their bodies were taxidermied to look like when they were alive, and they played standard instruments. Now, their bodies are modified to be the instruments. The violinist draws his bow across the vibrating muscle fibers of his arm. The woodwind blows into a clarinet made of her bones. The conductor's arms are now 10 feet long, with five elbows each, madly swinging a baton across the stage in tempo to a neural-network-generated variant on Also sprach Zarathustra. He used to be a friend of my dad's.

Simply stunning, Ozzy had said to seven-year-old me and my family. We now have a choice, Mu. Which wing of the Museum would you like to visit first?

“The games!” I said. My mom tried to hide a laugh.

A young woman with exquisite taste! Ozzy led us to the Games exhibit. Games are an under-appreciated, but ancient art form. The oldest known board game, Senet, dates to 5000 years ago in Ancient Egypt. Its name is believed to mean, "the game of passing".

“Passing, like a test?” I asked.

Passing, Ozzy grinned, into the next world.

At the time, I was enthralled by the chess-playing corpse, a former Grandmaster who was controlled by an AI trained to play in his style. And I had a small childhood crush on the basketball-playing corpse with tan muscular arms and carbon-spring legs. But secretly, I was disappointed they didn't have any videogames. They do now. If one so desires, one can play VR and AR games with the corpses of their world-famous designers. And some of them are still world-famous designers. When you play their games, their camera-eyes watch your face, see when you express frustration or delight, and they use a genetic algorithm – the same as Ozzy's – to evolve their games to perfection.

But I'm not here for that today. I thank Ozzy for the warm welcome, and let him know I'd like to go off-tour.

Why of course, Madam! Please make yourself at home. Was he really such a gentleman when he was alive?

You and your family are long-time friends of AfterLife, and you're always welcome here any day, on the house. Does it matter who he was in his previous life?

As Ozzy turns to walk back to the entrance, he shoots me a secret wink and smile.

Hey. It's good to see you again, Mu.

The actuators in his cheeks and the LED twinkle in his eye make it seem like he's really there. Maybe he is there.

While Ozzy returns to the gates, I walk straight down the main hall. I pass by my favorite corpses. There's the painter, using her blood to paint red trees in the autumn. There's the sculptor, with his eleven prosthetic arms, to mold clay into a shape of a new prosthetic arm. There's the novelist, with their 44 fingers directly attached to a ink-and-paper typewriter. There's the theatre troupe, dangling from strings like marionettes. There's the photographer, with telescopic lenses for eyes, strolling around the Museum, snapping photos of his artistic peers – all of them still creating art, still evolving their craft, still living death to the fullest.

It's not all smiles, though. Outside the window, there's a throng of protestors. There always were protestors. When I first came here with my mom and dad, the mob chanted, "PEOPLE ARE NOT PUPPETS". They thought what the Museum was doing to human corpses was an affront to God or human dignity or something. As if it's more dignified to have your corpse pumped with embalming fluid and fed to worms.

But that's not what they're protesting now. Now, they're angry that the corpses in AfterLife are living better lives than they are. The AI technology used in the Museum has also put millions of people out of work. While living people are barely surviving, a bunch of dead rich narcissists built this warehouse to store their dancing corpses. Hell, the corpses are even making money. Although AfterLife is partially funded by donors like myself, 60% of the Museum's revenue comes from selling the dead artists' new art.

"LIFE IS FOR THE LIVING," the protestors chant now. And: I agree. I think in an ideal world, we should all be living in AfterLife. We should all have no fear of starvation or shelterlessness or shame, and be able to fully dedicate our lives to art, to science, to something greater than ourselves. In an ideal world, we should all live like these corpses.

But this is not that world, and I don't have time for this.

I walk away from the window, to the end of the hall, and into the House of Donors. I go through the living room, past the kitchen, and into the back garden. Next to a bed of roses is a small table, on the table is a fresh pot of tea, and drinking the tea are my mom and dad.

“Mu!” Mom turns to me. “Happy birthday, sweetie! The big Five-Oh, huh?” She's just as sarcastic as she always was.

“Thanks for coming to see your old folks.” Dad stands, and walks towards me. “Actually, we have a little present for you!”

“Oh, Dad, you didn't have to...” A part of me knows they're not real.

“Nonsense, honey.” Mom stands up. “It's the least we could do after you paid Ozzy $10,000,000 for our corpses to not be rotting hunks of flesh under six feet of dirt.”

“Mom...” Another part of me doesn't fucking care if they're real.

“To be honest,” Dad says, ”your present's not much, but your mother and I hope you like it anyway...”

Mom walks up next to me and Dad. “Here it comes, you post-menopausal old fart!”

And they both give me a great, big hug.

In their arms, I'm thinking about when we first visited this place as a family. I'm thinking about the times Mom played Super Smash Bros with me and defeated me mercilessly. I'm thinking about the way Dad hummed symphonies while he sorted out the bills. I'm thinking about the first human beings, sheltered in a cold dark cave around a dying fire, painting pictures of their lives and hopes and dreams on the cave walls, knowing, even in this earliest stage of our evolution, that the only way to survive is to do more than just survive.

(originally posted on r/WritingPrompts)

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dianaschnuth
26 days ago
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An interesting bit of short speculative fiction.
Toledo OH

A years-old, one-letter typo led to Aliens: Colonial Marines‘ weird AI

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Enlarge / Want Aliens: Colonial Marines to better resemble this 'shopped image? Just remove one letter! (credit: Gearbox / Sega)

History may never be kind to Aliens: Colonial Marines, but the present tense isn't looking so good for the lawsuit- and complaint-ridden Gearbox game, either. This week brought to our attention one of the weirdest coding typos we've ever seen in a game—which has apparently been hidden inside of A:CM's PC version since its 2013 launch.

The first-person shooter returned to gaming's zeitgeist this week thanks to a 90-percent discount at gaming site Fanatical, which brings its asking price down to $3. (Buying the PC version outright from Steam currently costs the full $30 price.) This sale led one fan to plead with members of the popular gaming forum ResetERA to consider the game as a decent cheap-fun option, especially due to a 712MB fan-made patch at moddb.com that addresses many of the game's graphical and gameplay glitches.

Tether vs. teather

Upon researching this patch, ResetERA readers noticed something in the moddb.com notes that somehow escaped the gaming community at large in October 2017: the discovery of a one-letter typo in A:CM's INI files. As moddb.com user jamesdickinson963 pointed out last year, the game's "PecanEngine.ini" file references a "tether" system in assigning AI commands to the series' infamous monsters (which I'll call "xenomorphs" for brevity's sake, even though that term isn't necessarily the right one). However, one of its two mentions of the term "tether" is misspelled as "teather."

Dickinson's post alleges that this command, when spelled correctly, "controls tactical position adjustment, patrolling, and target zoning. When a xeno is spawned, it is attached to a zone tether. This zone tells the xeno what area is its fighting space and where different exits are. In combat, a xeno will be forced to switch to a new tether (such as one behind you) so as to flank or disperse so they aren't so grouped up, etc." Thanks to how the engine parsed this typo, it never caused any crashes; instead, the engine ignored the unfamiliar term. Thus, the game's monsters never received the smarter, useful information that had been programmed from the get-go. Instead, they often ran around like in the infamous image below.

The infamous "bad AI" GIF that a fan posted shortly after the launch of <em>Aliens: Colonial Marines</em>.

The infamous "bad AI" GIF that a fan posted shortly after the launch of Aliens: Colonial Marines.

This 2017 post came shortly after the release of the group's final "Game Over, Man!" patch, which, among many other fixes, overwrites this INI file with the typo's correction. Turns out, as of press time, the patch is still useful. Gearbox has not updated the game's PC version since July 2013, and the typo is still there.

On Friday, Ars re-downloaded and tested the game, exactly as served by Steam, through the opening beats of two missions. Then, we replayed those missions after editing the "teather" typo in the aforementioned INI file. In both missions, xenomorph AI improved dramatically once the typo was corrected, with monsters immediately taking advantage of elevated attack positions, hiding points, and multi-monster flanks. The difference is night-and-day.

Does this typo-correction upgrade mean the game is officially worth $3? Not necessarily. But the full patch does remedy enough of the game's biggest issues for anybody who might happen to own the game. Meanwhile, for anybody else in need of a quick sci-fi fix, we can think of worse ways to spend a few bucks for hours of entertainment.

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acdha
32 days ago
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Shared mostly because it’s an amusing tale of management failure but also because I’m wondering what percentage of time the angry gamers will take away from demanding the firing of female developers whose opinions suffer to protest things like this – 5%?
Washington, DC
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The story of the last survivor of the Atlantic slave trade

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In the late 1920s & early 1930s, African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston interviewed an Alabama man named Cudjo Lewis about his life. Lewis was the last survivor of the last slave ship to arrive in America in 1860, decades after the international slave trade had been made illegal in the US. Hurston attempted to publish Lewis’ story as a book, but her extensive use of Lewis’ “unique vernacular” kept publishers away. Last month, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” was finally published.

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.

In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other former slaves from his ship. Spending more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man ate peaches and watermelon that grew in the backyard and talked about Cudjo’s past-memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War.

Cudjo Lewis

Vulture has an excerpt of the book.

De King of Dahomey, you know, he got very rich ketchin slaves. He keep his army all de time making raids to grabee people to sell. One traitor from Takkoi (Cudjo’s village), he a very bad man and he go straight in de Dahomey and say to de king, “I show you how to takee Takkoi.” He tellee dem de secret of de gates. (The town had eight gates, intended to provide various escape routes in the event of an attack.)

Derefore, dey come make war, but we doan know dey come fight us. Dey march all night long and we in de bed sleep. It bout daybreak when de people of Dahomey breakee de Great Gate. I not woke yet. I hear de yell from de soldiers while dey choppee de gate. Derefore I jump out de bed and lookee. I see de great many soldiers wid French gun in de hand and de big knife. Dey got de women soldiers too and dey run wid de big knife and dey ketch people and saw de neck wid de knife den dey twist de head so it come off de neck. Oh Lor’, Lor’! I see de people gittee kill so fast!

There’s an audiobook version as well…I bet it’s amazing to listen to.

Tags: Barracoon   books   Cudjo Lewis   slavery   USA   Zora Neale Hurston
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acdha
34 days ago
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Washington, DC
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emdot
35 days ago
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My heart breaks every damn day lately. I am glad to see this man's face; I can't believe he had to live through this. My heart breaks.
San Luis Obispo, CA

Smart TVs in Millions of U.S. Homes Track Everything Users Watch

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Sapna Maheshwari, New York Times:

Still, David Kitchen, a software engineer in London, said he was startled to learn how Samba TV worked after encountering its opt-in screen during a software update on his Sony Bravia set.

The opt-in read: “Interact with your favorite shows. Get recommendations based on the content you love. Connect your devices for exclusive content and special offers. By cleverly recognizing onscreen content, Samba Interactive TV lets you engage with your TV in a whole new way.”

[…]

“The thing that really struck me was this seems like quite an enormous ask for what seems like a silly, trivial feature,” Mr. Kitchen said. “You appear to opt into a discovery-recommendation service, but what you’re really opting into is pervasive monitoring on your TV.”

[…]

Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said few people review the fine print in their zeal to set up new televisions. He said the notice should also describe Samba TV’s “device map,” which matches TV content to mobile gadgets, according to a document on its website, and can help the company track users “in their office, in line at the food truck and on the road as they travel.”

Do people truly want to be tracked for advertising purposes by nearly every device that they interact with? Survey after survey for years has indicated that they do not, yet we seem to have shrinking opportunities to object to it. Nearly every TV you’ll find at an electronics store today is a smart TV, and many of them have some form of this kind of tracking built in. The number of ways we’re being tracked on the web has exploded, and the number of companies that trade and collect that information in bulk keeps going up.

This is all buried in multi-thousand-word privacy policies that are not reasonable for the average user to read and interpret correctly. This is one reason I’m so supportive of GDPR — even though it doesn’t adequately regulate behavioural data collection, it does at least require full disclosure of privacy-intrusive practices to allow users more control the sharing of their data.

Technology companies are increasingly not operating in users’ best interests because users have few options besides disconnecting entirely.

Maheshwari, continued:

The Times is among the websites that allow advertisers to use data from Samba to track if people who see their ads visit their websites, but a Times spokeswoman, Eileen Murphy, said that the company did that “simply as a matter of convenience for our clients” and that it was not an endorsement of Samba TV’s technology.

As I wrote in April, website administrators have a responsibility to their users — and, in the Times’ case especially, their paying subscribers — to be careful with their website’s third-party data collection and sharing practices. Their agreement with Samba is an implicit endorsement that advertisers can target their users with data collected in an ethically-dubious manner.

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acdha
40 days ago
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Washington, DC
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zwol
40 days ago
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I’m really not looking forward to the inevitable day when I have to replace my nice reliable dumb TV, purchased 2008. It only ever gets used as a computer monitor so maybe I can just buy a computer monitor.
Pittsburgh, PA
MotherHydra
40 days ago
I hope monitors get big enough. I still haven't seen black levels on par with Panasonic's plasma sets.
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