Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for February 8th, 2018

More law-enforcement links from Radley Balko

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Here are some of the links from Balko’s column today:

  • Here’s how civil asset forfeiture drives police militarization.
  • Oklahoma cops shot and killed a 72-year-old woman who pointed a pellet gun at them during a marijuana raid. The police were targeting her son, the men raiding her home at night were police officers.
  • The Baltimore police scandal just keeps getting worse.
  • Meanwhile, there’s an emerging scandal in Chicago involving a tactical police team that includes allegations of shaking down drug dealers and framing innocent people.
  • Tennessee sheriff caught on tape saying “I love this s–t” just after ordering his officers to kill a suspect.
  • Law and order pundit John Lott recently authored a working paper claiming that undocumented immigrants in Arizona commit crimes at much higher rates than the general population. The study was widely circulated in conservative media. The Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh explains how Lott appears to have misinterpreted his data.
  • Here’s some exceptional reporting by a local newspaper about a wrongful conviction in Missouri.
  • Jeff Sessions claims that opioid abuse starts with marijuana use. There isn’t the slightest bit of research to support this claim. In fact, newly released federally funded research shows that in places where people have access to legal marijuana, opioid overdoses have dramatically declined.
  • The family of wrongly convicted George Allen will get $14 million from St. Louis and from the state of Missouri. Allen served 30 years in prison before he was released in 2012. He died in 2016. Police beat a false confession out of Allen, then hid the blood evidence that would have exonerated him


Written by LeisureGuy

8 February 2018 at 12:16 pm

Google gave the world powerful AI tools, and the world made porn with them

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Dave Gershgorn writes in Quartz:

In 2015, Google announced it would release its internal tool for developing artificial intelligence algorithms, TensorFlow, a move that would change the tone of how AI research and development would be conducted around the world. The means to build technology that could have an impact as profound as electricity, to borrow phrasing from Google’s CEO, would be open, accessible, and free to use. The barrier to entry was lowered from a Ph.D to a laptop.

But that also meant TensorFlow’s undeniable power was now out of Google’s control. For a little over two years, academia and Silicon Valley were still the ones making the biggest splashes with the software, but now that equation is changing. The catalyst is deepfakes, an anonymous Reddit user who built around AI software that automatically stitches any image of a face (nearly) seamlessly into a video. And you can probably imagine where this is going: As first reported by Motherboard, the software was being used to put anyone’s face, such as a famous woman or friend on Facebook, on the bodies of porn actresses.

After the first Motherboard story, the user created their own subreddit, which amassed more than 91,000 subscribers. Another Reddit user called deepfakeapp has also released a tool called FakeApp, which allows anyone to download the AI software and use it themselves, given the correct hardware. As of today, Reddit has banned the community, saying it violated the website’s policy on involuntary pornography.

According to FakeApp’s user guide, the software is built on top of TensorFlow. Google employees have pioneered similar work using TensorFlow with slightly different setups and subject matter, training algorithms to generate images from scratch. And there are plenty of potentially fun (if not inane) uses for deepfakes, like putting Nicolas Cage in a bunch of different movies. But let’s be real: 91,000 people were subscribed to deepfakes’ subreddit for the porn.

While much good has come from TensorFlow being open source, like potential cancer detection algorithms, FakeApp represents the dark side of open source. Google (and Microsoft and Amazon and Facebook) have loosed immense technological power on the world with absolutely no recourse. Anyone can download AI software and use it for anything they have the data to create. That means everything from faking political speeches (with help from the cadre of available voice-imitating AI) to generating fake revenge porn. All digital media is a series of ones and zeroes, and artificial intelligence is proving itself proficient at artfully arranging them to generate things that never happened.

Since the software can run locally on a computer, large tech companies relinquish control of what’s done with it after it leaves their servers. The creed of open source, or at least how it’s been viewed in modern software development, also dictates that these companies are freed of guilt or liability from what others do with the software. In that way, it’s like a gun or a cigarette.

And there’s little incentive to change: Free software is good business for these companies, exactly because it allows more people to develop AI. Every big tech company is locked in a battle to gather as much AI talent as possible, and the more people flooding into the field the better. Plus, others make projects with the code that inspire new products, people outside the company find and fix bugs, and students are being taught on the software in undergrad and Ph.D programs, creating a funnel for new talent that already know the company’s internal tools.

“People talk about big breakthroughs in machine learning in the last five years, but really the big breakthrough are not the algorithms. It’s really the same algorithms as the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Really the breakthrough is open source,” says Mazin Gilbert, VP of advanced technology at AT&T and former machine learning researcher. “What open source did was reduce the barrier to entry, so that it’s no longer the IBMs and the Googles and the Facebooks, who have the deep pockets.”

Open source software also complicates the calls for ethics in AI development. The tools that Google offers today are not the keys to creating Skynet or some other superintelligent being, but they can still do real harm. Google and others like Microsoft, which also offers an open-source AI framework, have been vocal about the ethical development of artificial intelligence that would not cause harm, and their on-staff scientists have signed pledges and started research groups dedicated to the topic. But the companies don’t offer any guidance or mandates for those who download their free software. The TensorFlow website shows how to get the software running, but no disclaimers on how to use the software ethically or instructions on how to make sure your dataset isn’t biased.

When I asked Microsoft’s VP of AI, Harry Shum, a few months ago how the company plans to guide those using its open-source software and paid developer tools towards creating ethical and unbiased machine learning systems, he said it’s not entirely clear.

“That’s really, really hard, I don’t think we have an easy solution today,” Shum said. “One thing we are gradually learning is that, as we design machine learning algorithms, we are trying to find the blind spots.”

Google did not respond to similar questions.

Moving AI away from open source isn’t an ideal solution, either. By closing the software, we’d lose a rare view into how these otherwise opaque tech companies develop their artificial intelligence algorithms. Research is published for free on websites like ArXiv, and raw code is shared on Github, meaning journalists, academics and ethicists can find potential pitfalls and demand accountability. And a majority of people are using the AI toolkits for productive uses, like standard image recognition in apps or sorting cucumbers.

It’s not far-fetched to think that soon other kinds of fake videos will make their way to more mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter, finding a home amongst the manually-developed political propaganda. And while AI researchers have been meeting to find a potential fix for this outside the purview of large technology companies, it’s unlikely a fix is coming soon. The software is already out there, after all.

Since developers of this core technology will continue to resist being held accountable for what people like the creator of deepfakes are doing, the burden will fall on the platforms where the videos and images are shared. For instance, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 February 2018 at 9:54 am

Native Esperanto Speaker – The Jubilee Child

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An interesting post by someone who spoke Esperanto from the gitgo:

Hello! Probably you have found this article by looking for experiences of native Esperanto speakers. Or you were just interested whether they exist at all. Maybe, you have seen this video online that has also me in it or you tumbled into the reddit AMA several of us did a few years ago. You googled me and ended up here. Less likely you read my story in the Subcultures comic bookabout Esperanto by Dan Mazur or the one by Daniel Tammet. Now you are here, and welcome! You are on a blog that is about the Esperanto-community. All the other articles are in Esperanto, because I write about ourselves for ourselves. It is a reflection of my experiences, what I see and also commentary on the topics and events in the Esperanto world.

I am making an exception here to post a few articles in English, because I see the need to explain a few things about native Esperanto speakers. I see many things that are not true, many people are in disbelief that we do exist. So I am here to just tell you about what the experiences of native speakers are like. The truth is what we natives have most in common is that we are all different. We do not share the same stories. Our parents did not decide to teach us Esperanto for the same reason. We do not even talk the same amount, or to the same parents, or in the same situations in our daily lives at all. Honestly, all our stories are very different. The backgrounds, the cultures, the countries, the other languages we speak, I mean literally I cannot think of anything that makes us a group to an outsider apart from the language we share. My mom disagrees, she thinks that we natives were all born into intellectual families. She might be right, I don’t know.

On the other hand, no matter where we are in the world we share many things because of Esperanto. Because of what the language gave us, together with the challenges of constantly explaining that we do exist, that we are real. It is not a joke to us, not a hobby, not a free time, but our life. Even if as grown-ups many of us decide not to be active in the community anymore the knowledge of the language stays, and so does the childhood that was transformed by it.

I am planning on telling you a few stories about my life to give your perspective what it is like to be a native speaker. What are some of the things that happen to us. Happened to me. This is one of many stories. I can’t speak for all of us, only for myself. When I will talk about experiences in plural, it is because my friends told me about those things. But when we used to be together in the summer or meet elsewhere, we hardly ever discussed what it was like for us to be a native speaker. We did a lot more fun stuff than that.

I gained deeper knowledge even about my own upbringing, when I started leading discussion groups on the topic during Esperanto events. I was much older, in my mid-20s when I started doing that. The rooms are always full, so many people are interested every single time. Parents, children, speakers of the language were sharing stories, misconceptions, asked questions from one another, explained decisions around raising children with Esperanto.

For a very long period of time I did not speak about the language, I did not disclose I was a native speaker, because the younger I was the more people asked me about it. At some point I got incredibly tired of it, of the interrogation all the time. And there were always the same questions: what is Esperanto? (In my head: why don’t you just look it up?) Why do you speak it? (I have just told you I am a native speaker. Obviously it was at least one of my parent’s decision.) Say something! Please? Anything! Later: how many native speakers are there? And the older I was, the more insults came with it as well. Esperanto is not a language. How useless! You can’t possibly use it every day! Your parents could have / should have taught you something else. Why didn’t you learn French first / instead?

The questions varied depending on the circumstances. Those, who already speak Esperanto they don’t think that the language is useless. They sometimes thought that learning as a native speaker is cheating the idea of it being a second language for everyone. The ideals are hurt that way, but not many people were upset, I received maybe two-three comments like that in the past three decades. The criticism comes mostly from people, who don’t even speak an other language than their own. May it be Hungarian or English the attitude is the same when you don’t see the value in speaking any other language than your own.

The reason why I got more of any of these questions and maybe not other native speakers was that I became active in the community from a very young age. And I mean not the community of the Esperanto-families that meets on a yearly basis – there you don’t have to explain things, as everyone is a native speaker or raising one, but the youth/adult community. That part of the movement was different for me. Many people met me as obviously the youngest person (I was 6 or 7 years old in the beginning) at these events from early on – for years I stayed the youngest in these events, and every single time several new people asked me why I spoke the language so incredibly well. They were astounded to find out I was a native speaker. Many hadn’t even thought of that as being an option for this language.

Then later on this would almost become my trademark. When we met again, people would ask more experienced speakers: so, are there any native speakers at this event right now? They would point at me in an instant, saying: yes, Stela, she must be the youngest one around here. And there were other people too, but I was clearly just the tiniest and cute, chatty as well. So, not feeling threatened by a child they would come to me and start asking the same questions. I was called old for the first time when I was 12, because that meant more than a decade in the movement! It was meant as a joke, but made me feel sad.

And before you ask me whether I know how many native speakers there are, I have to tell you, I honestly have no clue. Maybe a 1000 I read somewhere, or more? Less? A few hundred sounds about right to me. But I might be totally off, because I don’t really know what the situation is like outside of Europe and I don’t even care. I know enough families from my childhood. Some of my friends decided to raise their children with the language as well. We are not going anywhere, that is for sure.

I am a second generation speaker, I know someone, who was the 4th in her family. Let me tell you a bit about my family. My parents both spoke Esperanto. Actually that is how they met. They became friends during the World Congress in 1983, which was in Budapest, Hungary. . .

Continue reading.

And I always like to point out that, if you are going to learn any foreign language, it has been (repeatedly) demonstrated that learning Esperanto first facilitates and improves the acquisition of the language that is your goal. See this article in Wikipedia.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 February 2018 at 9:49 am

Posted in Daily life, Esperanto

What’s the matter with Oklahoma?

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Once again we see that when a government is starved of the revenue it needs to function, things get very bad. That revenue comes from taxes, which are the fees we pay to keep the government and government services operational. Kansas under Sam Brownback demonstrated that clearly, and now Oklahoma is replicating the experiment. The Economist reports:

FORTY miles from Tulsa, sometimes along unpaved roads, sits Wagoner High School, with its 650 pupils, championship-calibre football team and show barn—a seemingly ordinary small-town school. But unlike most high schools, Wagoner is closed on Mondays. The reason, a severe reduction in state funds, has pushed 90 other school districts in Oklahoma to do the same. Teacher pay is the third-lowest in the country and has triggered a statewide shortage, as teachers flee to neighbouring states like Arkansas and Texas or to private schools. “Most of our teachers work second jobs,” says Darlene Adair, Wagoner’s principal. “A lot of them work at Walmart on nights and weekends, or in local restaurants.” Ms Adair hopes that Walmart does not offer her teachers a full-time job, which would be a pay rise for many.

The roots of the fiasco are not hard to determine. As in Oklahoma’s northern neighbour, Kansas, deep tax cuts have wrecked the state’s finances. During the shale boom, lawmakers gave a sweetheart deal to its oilmen, costing $470m in a single year, by slashing the gross production tax on horizontal drilling from 7% to 1%. North Dakota, by contrast, taxes production at 11.5%. The crash in global oil prices in 2014 did not help state coffers either. Oklahoma has also cut income taxes, first under Democrats desperate to maintain control over a state that was trending Republican, and then under Republicans, who swept to power anyway. Mary Fallin, the Republican governor, came to office pledging to eliminate the income tax altogether. Since 2008 general state funds for K-12 education in Oklahoma have been slashed by 28.2%—the biggest cut in the country. Property taxes, which might have made up the difference, are constitutionally limited.

Other state agencies are broke, too. Highway patrolmen are told not to fill their petrol tanks to save money. Those caught drunk-driving are able to keep their licences because there are no bureaucrats to revoke them. Prisons are dangerously overcrowded, to the point that the state’s director of corrections publicly says that “something is going to pop”. But unlike Kansas, whose Republican legislature eventually rebelled and reversed the tax cuts over the governor’s veto, Oklahoma will find its troubling experiment much more difficult to undo. Because of a referendum passed in 1992, any bill that seeks to raise taxes must be approved by three-quarters of the legislature.

No fact embarrasses Oklahomans more, or repels prospective businesses more, than the number of cash-strapped districts that have gone to four-day weeks. Yet even such a radical change may not help finances much. Paul Hill, a professor of education at the University of Washington, Bothell, estimates that the savings are “in the 1 or 2% range at most”. That sliver is still important to Kent Holbrook, superintendent of public schools in Inola (the self-styled “Hay Capital of the World”). “In my mind, that’s five or six teachers,” says Mr Holbrook. Already, from 2008 to 2016, he has lost 11 teachers from a corps that once numbered 100. He has also had to reduce Spanish classes and, for the tenth year running, delay buying new textbooks.

It is also unclear whether four-day weeks actually harm learning. Administrators note that the children are better behaved. Parents seem to appreciate having an extra day for doctors’ appointments. Nor do the pupils mind much. In an informal poll, a class of eight-year olds was overwhelmingly in favour. Academics are less certain. One study, conducted in Montana, noted a short-term increase in test scores soon after the schedule shift, but a significant drop-off in subsequent years. Some schools have experimented with four-day weeks not because they risked financial insolvency, but to encourage pupils to job-shadow in their time off.

The real reason why so many school districts are resorting to a tighter calendar is that it is the only true perk they can offer to poorly paid teachers, whose salaries start at $31,600 and who have not received a rise for ten years. The exodus to Texas and Arkansas, which included Oklahoma’s Teacher of the Year in 2016, continues unabated. A 20-minute drive across the border often results in a $10,000 increase. Dallas’s school district has unashamedly set up booths in Oklahoma City to poach what talent remains. So dire is the shortage that school districts have found 1,850 adults without the necessary qualifications, given them emergency certifications, and placed them in classrooms. “This year, I emergency-certified my secretary,” says Penny Risley, the principal of an elementary school in Wagoner. Teach for America, which places fresh graduates from leading colleges in classrooms, is usually unpopular with teachers’ unions. In Oklahoma, they are welcomed with open arms.

To make matters worse,  . . .

Continue reading.

Full disclosure: I was born and raised in (southern) Oklahoma.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 February 2018 at 9:45 am

The Duke, The Dead Sea, and the Merkur 37G slant

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The Dead Sea requires very little water when loading, and this morning I shook out my Duke 3 Best so much it was actually too dry. I proceeded with the loading, though, and used the brush to spread the soap over my beard, then added a driblet of water to the brush and went over the beard area again, resulting in a very nice lather indeed. The Dead Sea has a pleasant and interesting fragrance: Lemon, Rosemary, Cannabis, Saffron, and Sandalwood.

With beard well prepped, the 37G came into action, and did its usual very fine job. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the Merkur slant head design, which is why it is so often cloned. (Patents don’t apply, since it was introduced more than century ago.) The RazoRock German 37 is an interesting variation, being a three-piece razor rather than two-piece, so that you can buy the head separately ($12) just to test the slant waters. Light pressure is required, of course.

Three passes to produce a smooth face with no problems, and a splash of Creed’s Green Irish Tweed EDT as an aftershave finished the job.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 February 2018 at 9:41 am

Posted in Shaving

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