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The Make: Staff Gingerbread House Extravaganza

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The Make: Staff Gingerbread House Extravaganza

The Make staff went all out this year building their gingerbread houses.

The post The Make: Staff Gingerbread House Extravaganza appeared first on Make: DIY Projects and Ideas for Makers.

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josephwebster
66 days ago
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These gingerbread houses are predictably way over the top. Bravo Make!
Denver, CO, USA
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Is it too late to fix the problem of AI clutter on the web?

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Cluttered book store with a person trying to find a book

Ethical and compliance issues aside, the biggest problem I see with AI generated content or code is waste. Once again we use a new tool to generate more things quicker, rather than to generate fewer, better things. Even more interesting is that we could use this as an opportunity to analyse our ways and recognise cruft. In other words: if things are that formulaic that a machine can generate them, do we really need them?

A common joke is that people use ChatGPT to turn three bullet points into a well-formed email or cover letter and the recipient using it to turn that email back into three bullet points. It’s funny because it’s true. When I applied for jobs, I took the job descriptions and my CV data and asked ChatGPT to generate well-worded pieces for me. Quite a few companies I applied at use AI to screen incoming emails. I am also sure recruiters use AI to distill CVs and cover letters, given the amount of emails they have to deal with each day.

Application processes, CVs and cover letters have become formulaic to a degree where there are services to write your CV for you. It feels like hiring a lawyer or tax advisor, as the language necessary to get where you want to go is so far removed from day-to-day communication that it needs an expert. Do people read all that well-worded information though? I doubt it. Personally, I scan more than I read.

AI recommending us content doesn’t mean we have to take it all

Almost every application of AI sold as a way to make us more efficient means creating a lot of content automatically. I started typing this in Visual Studio Code with GitHub Copilot enabled. Copilot tries to be helpful by autocompleting my sentences and offering new paragraphs that complete the thought. Or so it thinks. What it did was annoy me with lots of unnecessary repetition of points made in the first paragraph. So I switched another editor – Hemingway, which keeps your writing terse and to the point.

I could have let Copilot go nuts and keep all its suggestions. It is tempting as it feels that you create a lot and you’re a more efficient writer. It is pretty common that people do that. The amount of generated content is overwhelming the current web. As the Verge put it, AI is killing the old web, and the new web struggles to be born. People generate a lot of articles, and moderators can’t keep up, so they also use AI to automatically detect AI generated content. It is the search engine optimisation arms race all over again, but this time it’s automated and it costs a lot of energy. Both human energy and electricity being wasted.

This is not only detrimental to the quality of the web as we’re drowning in mediocre, traffic-optimised content. It is also bad for the planet. AI functionality doesn’t come cheap. It is expensive in computation and means a lot of traffic going back and forth.

Trying to be green in an avalanche of generated content

We are currently looking how software can be greener and use up fewer resources and people like the Green Software Foundation do some amazing work in spreading awareness. And yet, the cost of AI consumption is not often questions as it is the cool thing of the moment.

Sure, with text this isn’t that much of an issue. Generated images, videos and upscaled low quality media means a lot of computation power and energy used for, well, what exactly? To prove that we can generated an image from a text saying “a monkey wearing a watermelon as a hat in the style of matisse”? Our few seconds of fame as a funny creator on social media without having to put any craft into it?

Diffusionbee generating an image of a monkey wearing a watermelon as a hat in the style of matisse

It’s pretty likely that this is another fad that will go away in the long run. Much like we stopped doing Simpsons avatars or Elfed ourselves. Younger audiences also consider GIFs as “cringe” which makes me happy as that was traffic and distractions nobody needed.

If AI generates code it can also optimise it

It is interesting though that the CEO of Twitter announced that soon Copilot and others will generate 80% of the code out there. The optimiser in me immediately saw this as an opportunity to cut the fat of our code bases. If 80% is generated boilerplate code, why should that always be created instead of re-used? During the course of my career one thing that annoyed me was that developers have no patience with platforms. Instead of taking part in open source and standardisation to make the platform do what we need, people kept writing their own solutions. Solutions often touted as a “stop-gap” solution that in the end, never go away. JavaScript libraries that made cross-browser development easier are now a dependency that can’t be removed any more. Even worse, they often aren’t even maintained, meaning they do not only become unnecessary traffic and code bloat, but also a security and performance issue.

I have to admit that in the last years I lost some interest in developing code. It’s not that there are no cool challenges or excellent new platform features. It is the way we approach development these days that bored me. We don’t solve problems, we don’t look for native solutions. Instead we include packages and components we don’t even know how they work or what they do. We build products from building blocks that other people wrote. It’s not a “let’s start a project by looking at the problem to solve”. It is “run this install to get the boilerplate code you might need”. When we release these products we find out they don’t perform. So we hire a performance expert to analyse our products and they find unused code and cruft. We then write more code to remove this unused code and create optimised code bundles for different use cases.

AI content generation feels the same. We generate a ton of content that isn’t ours and may be bad quality or a terrible idea and throw it out there. And then we use AI to cut it down to something that is understandable again. Seems wasteful, doesn’t it?

If 80% of the code of the future will be generated, this is a great opportunity to optimise that code. We won’t have to argue with engineers who want code to be done in a certain way. We can let machines generate code for machines. And then we have to ask ourselves why this code even exists. AI is great to detect patterns. So if hundreds of developers keep using the same code to solve an issue, couldn’t that code become part of the platform?

Let’s stop littering the web – it’s already full of rubbish

The web is in danger to be flooded with generated content that nobody needs. Our codebases are likely to get bigger because we get offered lots of code by hitting the tab key instead of writing it by hand. This is the time to be aware of this. Sure, convenience is a lovely thing. But we also need to think about the cost of what we create. For the ease of mind of other people, so we don’t overload them with content they will never read. And also what it means to the planet and our electricity consumption. AI is here to stay, and it can be used to optimise our workflows and our software products. But it can also help us to litter the web even more than it is right now.

Photo by Darwin Vegher on Unsplash

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josephwebster
241 days ago
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Denver, CO, USA
christophersw
241 days ago
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Baltimore, MD
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Amazon introduces new feature to make dialogue in its TV shows intelligible

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A TV showing Dialogue Boost audio options on-screen

Enlarge / A promotional image of Dialogue Boost. (credit: Amazon)

Amazon has introduced a new feature to Prime Video called Dialogue Boost. It's intended to isolate dialogue and make it louder relative to other sounds in streaming videos on the service.

Amazon describes how it works in a blog post:

Dialogue Boost analyzes the original audio in a movie or series and intelligently identifies points where dialogue may be hard to hear above background music and effects. Then, speech patterns are isolated and audio is enhanced to make the dialogue clearer. This AI-based approach delivers a targeted enhancement to portions of spoken dialogue, instead of a general amplification at the center channel in a home theater system.

Not all content will be eligible for the dialogue boost feature, though—at least not yet. Amazon says it "has initially launched on select Amazon Originals worldwide" like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Big Sick.

While this is partly an accessibility feature for people who are hard of hearing, Amazon is also responding to a widespread complaint among viewers.

A 2022 survey found that 50 percent of 1,260 American viewers "watch content with subtitles most of the time," many of them citing "muddled audio" and saying that it's more difficult to understand dialogue in movies and TV shows than it used to be.

The dialogue problem

There's no one simple reason for this development. It involves several factors, but many of them could reasonably be categorized under a "fragmented viewer experience" banner.

Decades ago, most TVs or home theater speakers had similar audio capabilities. However, the range of devices used—from built-in speakers in cheap TVs and laptops to high-end Dolby Atmos surround-sound systems with AI-optimized sound fields and everything in between—has grown. Additionally, TV manufacturers introduce a wide variety of proprietary technologies and configurations that they can try to use to differentiate their products in marketing materials, changing the way the same content sounds on nearly every device.

All of that means that professionals who master and encode audio for distribution on streaming networks have their work cut out for them. Some shows prioritize making sure it sounds good for the highest-end setups, but the comparative lack of dynamic range in cheaper speakers can leave owners of lesser systems with muddled audio. But even if a (futile) effort is made to encode the audio for the widest viewership possible, the devices are still so fragmented that it may be impossible to ensure a quality experience for everyone.

There are other factors, too, of course. More theatrical styles of TV acting that were popular in the '70s, '80s, and '90s have given way to a subtler, more realistic delivery that was previously the realm of art films. While those deliveries played well in movie theaters with robust sound systems, they don't always work as well on $200 TVs. Streaming bitrates and related audio quality can also vary from household to household.

It's a similar set of underlying problems to TV shows appearing too dark for some viewers. Many of us remember the final-season Game of Thrones episode that had viewers squinting in vain to see what was happening. Film techniques playing on small screens with limited contrast, peak brightness, and dynamic range were all at play there—though HBO Go and HBO Now's then-subpar resolution and bitrate were a particularly big issue in that specific case.

Anyway, back to audio: Some streaming boxes or audio systems—like the Apple TV 4K or Sonos' home theater offerings—offer built-in dialogue-boosting features, but not everyone uses those devices. Amazon's new feature should, in theory, work on anything, even if it doesn't already have support for dialogue boosting.

The company hasn't announced when the feature will expand to more content. But we wouldn't be surprised to see rapid expansion—not just from Amazon, but from other streamers offering similar features, too.

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josephwebster
309 days ago
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This is why I love Steven Slate VSX headphones. It's insanely hard to mix and master audio that sounds reasonable on MP3 players and high end studio monitors.
Denver, CO, USA
fxer
312 days ago
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Bend, Oregon
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A video game has revolutionised the way farmers are buying tractors

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josephwebster
337 days ago
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Farming Simulator is awesome and the models of all equipment are insanely detailed and accurate.
Denver, CO, USA
christophersw
337 days ago
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Baltimore, MD
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Hotline Miami and the Rise of Techno in Ultra-Violent Video Games | Pitchfork

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That underlying angst made M.O.O.N.’s songs a perfect fit for Hotline Miami. Created primarily on Ableton by tinkering with presets and splicing loops, his contributions center around dissonant melodic intervals and bass-heavy BPMs that increase the player’s heart rate, a key part of the soundtrack’s efficiency. A song like “Hydrogen” helps players sharpen their focus while simultaneously ratcheting their anxiety, egging on a desire for revenge. On difficult levels, the sheer repetition of techno helps detach you from the unsettling feeling of bashing someone’s skull with a baseball bat or shooting a guard dog with a machine gun before it attacks you. The Hotline Miami soundtrack doesn’t just sound cool; it’s a stylish aesthetic-turned-mindset that intentionally helps players numb the problems around them. 

“Rather than get you cognitively engaged, techno is actually trying to—as one neuroscientist said—free you from the ‘dominance of reality’ and let your mind drift off into other places without worrying that you’re going to miss something,” explains Berklee professor and music psychologist Dr. Susan Rogers. When overlaid with the game itself, the music’s effect becomes a delicate balance of repetition, cross-modal perception, and synths as a unique neural reward for imagination, urging players to disassociate in a fun way. “In the case of electronic music, it’s not cognitively taxing,” she continues. “We don’t have to think about it in order to enjoy it.” 

In addition to bolstering the 2010s indie-game surgeHotline Miami helped popularize the trend of pairing adrenaline-pumping electronic music with fast-paced combat, vibrant color schemes, and stylish kills. In recent years, that combination appears in games like 2022’s Rollerdrome or 2019’s Project Downfall. Perhaps it’s because they already signed Hotline Miami, but video game publisher Devolver Digital has a keen eye for high-octane games with this dynamic in particular. Ruiner is a brutal 2017 cyberpunk shooter set in the future, and Katana Zero is a 2019 neo-noir about an assassin who must kill enemies and manipulate time to dodge attacks. Both games boast icy techno soundtracks that were pressed to vinyl. Then there’s My Friend Pedro, the creative 2019 side-scroller shoot-em-up that went viral thanks to its inherent GIF-ability. That game’s ominous score sounds like Trent Reznor hosting a Blade rave. 

“Those games all elicited strong emotions, be it laughter, excitement, or just incoherent yelling,” recalls Robbie Paterson, a representative from Devolver. The cross-modal perception that comes into play with all of these games tends to reward sensory overload—bright colors, fast movement, loud music that keeps you alert while getting you to focus—which is what gives unrelenting games that distinct rush. Paterson boils it down even more: “Generally, if a game pops up that looks weird and feels good to play, we’re interested.”

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josephwebster
354 days ago
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Denver, CO, USA
fxer
354 days ago
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Bend, Oregon
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Nick Weaver on Regulating Cryptocurrency

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Nicholas Weaver wrote an excellent paper on the problems of cryptocurrencies and the need to regulate the space—with all existing regulations. His conclusion:

Regulators, especially regulators in the United States, often fear accusations of stifling innovation. As such, the cryptocurrency space has grown over the past decade with very little regulatory oversight.

But fortunately for regulators, there is no actual innovation to stifle. Cryptocurrencies cannot revolutionize payments or finance, as the basic nature of all cryptocurrencies render them fundamentally unsuitable to revolutionize our financial system—which, by the way, already has decades of successful experience with digital payments and electronic money. The supposedly “decentralized” and “trustless” cryptocurrency systems, both technically and socially, fail to provide meaningful benefits to society—and indeed, necessarily also fail in their foundational claims of decentralization and trustlessness.

When regulating cryptocurrencies, the best starting point is history. Regulating various tokens is best done through the existing securities law framework, an area where the US has a near century of well-established law. It starts with regulating the issuance of new cryptocurrency tokens and related securities. This should substantially reduce the number of fraudulent offerings.

Similarly, active regulation of the cryptocurrency exchanges should offer substantial benefits, including eliminating significant consumer risk, blocking key money-laundering channels, and overall producing a far more regulated and far less manipulated market.

Finally, the stablecoins need basic regulation as money transmitters. Unless action is taken they risk becoming substantial conduits for money laundering, but requiring them to treat all users as customers should prevent this risk from developing further.

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josephwebster
359 days ago
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Denver, CO, USA
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