Later On

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Siri helps those with autism

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Siri has more patience and is more even-tempered than most people, and that makes Siri a good interlocutor with someone who is autistic. Judith Newman writes in the NY Times:

Just how bad a mother am I? I wondered, as I watched my 13-year-old son deep in conversation with Siri. Gus has autism, and Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant” on the iPhone, is currently his B.F.F. Obsessed with weather formations, Gus had spent the hour parsing the difference between isolated and scattered thunderstorms — an hour in which, thank God, I didn’t have to discuss them. After a while I heard this:

Gus: “You’re a really nice computer.”

Siri: “It’s nice to be appreciated.”

Gus: “You are always asking if you can help me. Is there anything you want?”

Siri: “Thank you, but I have very few wants.”

Gus: “O.K.! Well, good night!”

Siri: “Ah, it’s 5:06 p.m.”

Gus: “Oh sorry, I mean, goodbye.”

Siri: “See you later!”

That Siri. She doesn’t let my communications-impaired son get away with anything. Indeed, many of us wanted an imaginary friend, and now we have one. Only she’s not entirely imaginary.

This is a love letter to a machine. It’s not quite the love Joaquin Phoenix felt in “Her,” last year’s Spike Jonze film about a lonely man’s romantic relationship with his intelligent operating system (played by the voice of Scarlett Johansson). But it’s close. In a world where the commonly held wisdom is that technology isolates us, it’s worth considering another side of the story.

It all began simply enough. I’d just read one of those ubiquitous Internet lists called “21 Things You Didn’t Know Your iPhone Could Do.” One of them was this: I could ask Siri, “What planes are above me right now?” and Siri would bark back, “Checking my sources.” Almost instantly there was a list of actual flights — numbers, altitudes, angles — above my head.

I happened to be doing this when Gus was nearby. “Why would anyone need to know what planes are flying above your head?” I muttered. Gus replied without looking up: “So you know who you’re waving at, Mommy.”

Gus had never noticed Siri before, but when he discovered there was someone who would not just find information on his various obsessions (trains, planes, buses, escalators and, of course, anything related to weather) but actually semi-discuss these subjects tirelessly, he was hooked. And I was grateful. Now, when my head was about to explode if I had to have another conversation about the chance of tornadoes in Kansas City, Mo., I could reply brightly: “Hey! Why don’t you ask Siri?”

It’s not that Gus doesn’t understand Siri’s not human. He does — intellectually. But like many autistic people I know, Gus feels that inanimate objects, while maybe not possessing souls, are worthy of our consideration. I realized this when he was 8, and I got him an iPod for his birthday. He listened to it only at home, with one exception. It always came with us on our visits to the Apple Store. Finally, I asked why. “So it can visit its friends,” he said.

So how much more worthy of his care and affection is Siri, with her . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 12:48 pm

High-level managers overestimate their knowledge and competence: FBI division

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CEOs and other very high-level managers—especially the highest-level manager at any location—have a lot of responsibilities—management responsibilities—and as they devote their time and attention to that, their technical skills and knowledge gradually becomes more and more dated. So when the top guy/gal decides to step in and solve a problem, the resulting suggestion is often embarrassingly wrong-headed and tin-eared. The game actually will pass you by if you stay out of it long enough—and even ten years is a long time these days.

Take, for example, James Comey of the FBI commenting way out of his depth on encryption standards. Dan Froomkin and Natasha Vargas-Cooper report in The Intercept:

FBI Director James Comey gave a speech Thursday about how cell-phone encryption could lead law enforcement to a “very dark place” where it “misses out” on crucial evidence to nail criminals. To make his case, he cited four real-life examples — examples that would be laughable if they weren’t so tragic.

In the three cases The Intercept was able to examine, cell-phone evidence had nothing to do with the identification or capture of the culprits, and encryption would not remotely have been a factor.

In the most dramatic case that Comey invoked — the death of a 2-year-old Los Angeles girl — not only was cellphone data a non-issue, but records show the girl’s death could actually have been avoided had government agencies involved in overseeing her and her parents acted on the extensive record they already had before them.

In another case, of a Lousiana sex offender who enticed and then killed a 12-year-old boy, the big break had nothing to do with a phone: The murderer left behind his keys and a trail of muddy footprints, and was stopped nearby after his car ran out of gas.

And in the case of a Sacramento hit-and-run that killed a man and his girlfriend’s four dogs, the driver was arrested a few hours later in a traffic stop because his car was smashed up, and immediately confessed to involvement in the incident.

Los Angeles

Comey described the cases differently. Here’s one:

In Los Angeles, police investigated the death of a 2-year-old girl from blunt force trauma to her head. There were no witnesses. Text messages stored on her parents’ cell phones to one another and to their family members proved the mother caused this young girl’s death and that the father knew what was happening and failed to stop it. Text messages stored on these devices also proved that the defendants failed to seek medical attention for hours while their daughter convulsed in her crib.

Comey was evidently referring to Abigail Lara-Morales, a 2-year old Latina from Lynwood, California who died in 2011 at the hands of her parents. What Comey skipped over was that an independent audit of problems at the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DFCS)  found that Abigail’s death was avoidable had any of the three government agencies involved in overseeing her and her parents done their jobs. The text messages Comey characterizes as an evidentiary clincher in Abigail’s sad death just added to the prosecutors’ already overwhelming case. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2014 at 12:01 pm

Sistine Chapel lit by LEDs

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Somehow seems incongruous, but a good idea nonetheless.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2014 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Art, Technology

Whisper: The ‘anonymous’ messaging app that reportedly tracks your location and shares data with the Pentagon

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I wonder whether we are going to start seeing services and products whose covert purpose is to monitor communications and locations for government agencies, with the agency acting assisting in development and funding in return for use of the service in surveillance. Brian Fung writes in the Washington Post:

It turns out Whisper — the social networking app that lets users post messages to the service anonymously — may have been tracking its users’ locations, sometimes even after the users opted out of the service’s geolocation features.

That information has occasionally been shared with the U.S. government, including agencies such as the Pentagon, using a lower legal standard than is commonly used by other tech companies, according to an in-depth reportby The Guardian.

Reporters from The Guardian recently visited Whisper’s headquarters in Los Angeles. What they discovered over the course of three days showed that Whisper not only kept tabs on accounts it deemed interesting — “military personnel,” a “sex-obsessed lobbyist,” and political staffers, to name a few — but that it retained that information for far longer than its Web site suggested.

I’ve reached out to Whisper for comment; I’ll update this post if and when I hear back. Whisper told The Guardian it “occasionally” uses user IP addresses but does not store usernames, phone numbers or personally identifiable information.

When a user opted out of the geolocation tracking feature, which allows users to see Whisper posts that are “nearby,” Whisper was still able to collect rough location data on a case-by-case basis from certain users’ phones, according to The Guardian. When Whisper found out that The Guardian was preparing its story for publication, the company reportedly rewrote its terms of service to allow the collection of general geolocation data even when users have turned off the feature.

One question moving forward is whether revising its terms of service is enough to protect Whisper from an inquiry by the Federal Trade Commission, which can pursue companies that engage in “unfair or deceptive” acts and practices. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2014 at 10:55 am

Since 2009, the FCC Has Received 16,000 Complaints About Time Warner and Comcast

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One wonders why the FCC has taken no action—but then I recall the chairman, Tom Wheeler, was formerly a lobbyist for telecoms and cable companies. No wonder the complaints have effect. President Obama seems to want to protect large corporations at all costs.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 12:06 pm

Addictions: The Internet, work, Google Glass

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I thought this article Jordan Pearson at Motherboard was quite interesting. From the article:

. . . Google Glass can be used in ways that aren’t necessarily harmful, like providing real-time closed captioning for the hearing impaired. In a high pressure environment that rewards ever-increasing efficiency, however, it can be abused to the point of harm.

“What technology does is deliver information at such a high, rapid pace, that if we’re not careful, this could be a reward mechanism that can be abused,” Doan said. “When you get new information, your brain sends dopamines and you get an adrenaline arousal, similar to when you watch movies or when you find new information. There’s shorter and shorter obligatory rest periods between the events, hence people who sit on their computer or have a wearable device, and wear it day in and day out.”

Doan noted that it’s important not to blame the addicted person when it comes to the abuse of drugs or technology. Instead, we have to understand why addictive behaviour occurs: quick rewards with a short rest period, compounded by underlying psychological distress. With Glass in the workplace, these ingredients are certainly present.

The psychological effects of workplace pressure are well-documented andrecognized by the World Health Organization, the American Psychological Association, and myriad other organizations. The pressure to perform tasks more quickly and with greater efficiency has always been a major stressor, one that is exacerbated by technologies like Google Glass.

The media theorist John Tomlinson characterized the connection between speed, work, technology, and psychology as emblematic of “fast capitalism.” Digital technology gives us access to instantaneous flows of information and communication, speeding up the pace of life.

The result, Tomlinson writes in The Culture of Speed, is a psychological working-over resulting in a new kind of person suited to the age of speed, and an increasingly exhausted and harried one at that, dependent on the devices that accelerate work in the first place. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2014 at 11:48 am

Wind Power Is Actually Cheaper Than Coal, Says Leaked Government Report

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Wow! That’s a game changer. I would bet the coal industry is sending pallets of money down to Washington to get that report killed. Look for US government-funded counter-studies within months if not weeks. (And the GOP will of course dismiss it out of hand: it’s European, and physics and chemistry and so on are very different over there…  metric and stuff.)

Written by LeisureGuy

13 October 2014 at 1:25 pm


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