Later On

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

Archive for December 30th, 2019

Instead of “Any questions?” say “What questions do you have for me?”

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And other tips in this Twitter thread.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2019 at 4:34 pm

Brave New World, Deepfakes Dept: The coming deepfakes threat to businesses

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Kaveh Waddell and Jennifer A. Kingson reported in Axos last July:

In the first signs of a mounting threat, criminals are starting to use deepfakes — starting with AI-generated audio — to impersonate CEOs and steal millions from companies, which are largely unprepared to combat them.

Why it matters: Nightmare scenarios abound. As deepfakes grow more sophisticated, a convincing forgery could send a company’s stock plummeting (or soaring), to extract money or to ruin its reputation in a viral instant.

  • Imagine a convincing fake video or audio clip of Elon Musk, say, disclosing a massive defect the day before a big Tesla launch — the company’s share price would crumple.

What’s happening: For all the talk about fake videos, it’s deepfake audio that has emerged as the first real threat to the private sector.

  • Symantec, a major cybersecurity company, says it has seen three successful audio attacks on private companies. In each, a company’s “CEO” called a senior financial officer to request an urgent money transfer.
  • Scammers were mimicking the CEOs’ voices with an AI program that had been trained on hours of their speech — culled from earnings calls, YouTube videos, TED talks and the like.
  • Millions of dollars were stolen from each company, whose names were not revealed. The attacks were first reported in the BBC.

And in March, a Twitter account falsely claiming to belong to a Bloomberg journalist reportedly tried to coax personal information from Tesla short-sellers. Amateur sleuths said the account’s profile photo had the hallmarks of an AI-generated image.

Big picture: This threat is just beginning to emerge. Video and audio deepfakes are improving at a frightening pace and are increasingly easy to make.

  • There’s been an uptick in sophisticated audio attacks over the past year, says Vijay Balasubramaniyan, CEO of Pindrop, a company that protects call centers from scammers.
  • But businesses aren’t ready, experts tell Axios. “I don’t think corporate infrastructure is prepared for a world where you can’t trust the voice or video of your colleague anymore,” says Henry Ajder of Deeptrace, a deepfakes-detection startup.

Even if companies were clamoring for defenses, few tools exist to keep harmful deepfakes at bay, says Symantec’s Saurabh Shintre. The challenge of automatically spotting a deepfake is almost insurmountable, and there are hurdles still ahead for a promising alternative: creating a digital breadcrumb trail for unaltered media.

  • Pindrop monitors for audio attacks like altered voices on customer service lines.
  • Symantec and ZeroFOX, another cybersecurity company, say they are developing technology to detect audio fakes.

What’s out there already isn’t cheap.

  • New Knowledge, a firm that defends companies from disinformation, says its services can run from $50,000 to “a couple million” a year.
  • Just monitoring the internet for potential fakes comes at “a substantial cost,” says Matt Price of ZeroFOX. “And that’s not even talking about the detection piece, which will probably be fairly expensive.”

As a result, businesses are largely defenseless for now, leaving . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2019 at 3:56 pm

Queuing theory is counter-intuitive: What happens when you add a new teller?

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This is from October 2008, but I just stumbled across it. John Cook writes at his consulting company website:

Suppose a small bank has only one teller. Customers take an average of 10 minutes to serve and they arrive at the rate of 5.8 per hour. What will the expected waiting time be? What happens if you add another teller?

We assume customer arrivals and customer service times are random (details later). With only one teller, customers will have to wait nearly five hours on average before they are served. But if you add a second teller, the average waiting time is not just cut in half; it goes down to about 3 minutes. The waiting time is reduced by a factor of 93x.

Why was the wait so long with one teller? There’s not much slack in the system. Customers are arriving every 10.3 minutes on average and are taking 10 minutes to serve on average. If customer arrivals were exactly evenly spaced and each took exactly 10 minutes to serve, there would be no problem. Each customer would be served before the next arrived. No waiting.

The service and arrival times have to be very close to their average values to avoid a line, but that’s not likely. On average there will be a long line, 28 people. But with a second teller, it’s not likely that even two people will arrive before one of the tellers is free.

Here are the technical footnotes. This problem is a typical example from queuing theory. Customer arrivals are modeled as a Poisson process with λ = 5.8/hour. Customer service times are assumed to be exponential with mean 10 minutes. (The Poisson and exponential distribution assumptions are common in queuing theory. They simplify the calculations, but they’re also realistic for many situations.) The waiting times given above assume the model has approached its steady state. That is, the bank has been open long enough for the line to reach a sort of equilibrium.

Queuing theory is fun because it is often possible to come up with surprising but useful results with simple equations. For example, for a single server queue, the expected waiting time is λ/(μ(μ – λ)) where λ the the arrival rate and μ is the service rate. In our example, λ = 5.8 per hour and μ = 6 per hour. Some applications require more complicated models that do not yield such simple results, but even then the simplest model may be a useful first approximation.

Related postServer utilization: Joel on queueing

Continue reading for comments.

BTW, I’ve noticed in several branch banks they have two tellers active…

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2019 at 3:10 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Math

Faulty Equipment, Lapsed Training, Repeated Warnings: How a Preventable Disaster Killed Six Marines

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The US Navy is badly broken and it’s starting to affect the Marine Corps.  Robert Faturechi, Megan Rose, and T. Christian Miller report in ProPublica:

Capt. Jahmar Resilard and Capt. Austin Smith were hurtling over the Pacific Ocean at 280 miles per hour. From inside the cockpit of their U.S. Marine Corps fighter jet, they kept their eyes on the hulking fuel tanker flying ahead. Off to their right, two Marines in a second jet assigned to Fighter Attack Squadron 242 did the same.

The moon was below the horizon. The lights on all three aircraft were turned off. In total darkness, 50 miles off the coast of Japan, the two jets were to stick their noses into fuel hoses trailing behind the tanker’s wings.

Even for the most prepared aviators, the training mission was not simple. Doing it at night made it even trickier. The night vision goggles fastened to their faces badly constricted how much they could see, like wearing binoculars to operate heavy equipment.

It didn’t help that Resilard had only executed a nighttime refueling once before in his career, more than a year earlier. His qualification to do so had formally lapsed, but no one realized it because a known glitch in the Marine Corps’ training tracker had yet to be fixed.

Resilard gained on the tanker, a behemoth capable of carrying more than 12,000 gallons of fuel. He connected gingerly to the hose.

“Good flow,” Smith assured him from the backseat of their cockpit.

The second Hornet had connected to the tanker’s other fuel hose. As the gas poured in at a rate of hundreds of gallons a minute, the three Marine Corps aircraft turned a wide, careful oval inside the safety of their approved airspace.

The December 2018 flight was part of a week of hastily planned exercises that would test how prepared Fighter Attack Squadron 242 was for war with North Korea. But the entire squadron, not just Resilard, had been struggling for months to maintain their basic skills. Flying a fighter jet is a highly perishable skill, but training hours had been elusive. Repairs to jets were delayed. Pleadings up the chain of command for help and relief went ignored.

“Everyone believes us to be under-resourced, under-manned,” the squadron’s commander wrote to his superiors months earlier.

And now, in perhaps the world’s most volatile theater, a Marine Corps general had ordered up a rushed set of exercises. The aviators in the air over the Pacific, investigators later found, had been given so little time to adjust their sleep schedules in order to fly at night that inside their F/A-18D Hornets that night it was as if they were legally drunk.

“Don’t have a good feeling,” Capt. James Wilson, the pilot of the second Hornet, had texted to his wife before taking off that night. “Love you.”

Smith, Resilard’s weapons officer, had flown so little of late that he was getting nauseous when he did fly. On the night of the refueling, he’d violated regulations and taken a motion sickness pill, risking drowsiness.

But both Hornets managed to refuel and disconnect without incident. Success felt close. They just had to safely separate. The mood over the radio was light.

“If you guys will go ahead and start a left turn to the middle of the area, we will give you a little show on the way out,” Wilson said to the tanker crew.

“Fuck yeah,” one of the tanker pilots replied.

Then, suddenly, Resilard’s Hornet drifted over the top of the tanker and to its right, a dangerous and unexpected maneuver.

It’s possible Resilard’s night vision goggles malfunctioned. They were a known menace. In fact, they were so problematic — the image could blur, even accidentally turn upside down — that the Air Force had recommended they not be fielded at all. The Marine Corps did so anyway.

“Oh … sheeitt … what are they gonna do?” the tanker pilot, still excited, said over the intercom, unaware Resilard was in danger.

Then Resilard corrected back. For 11 seconds, his jet dove down and to the left, straight for the tanker. One of the Marines in the second Hornet tried to radio a warning to Resilard but fumbled in activating the communications line.

The jet lanced the side of the tanker; the impact was shattering. Smith slammed into his Hornet’s canopy. He instantly yanked the ejection handle, activating the rockets under his and Resilard’s seats. The force of being launched out into the night sky ripped the helmet and goggles off Resilard’s head.

From the cockpit of the second Hornet, all Wilson could see below him was fire. He watched the burning tanker fall for 10 seconds. At 12,000 feet, it disappeared into a thick marine layer. The clouds glowed red. Five Marines were fatally trapped on board. All that could be heard over their intercom was wind whipping in and men hollering.

His parachute deployed, Smith began a 15,000-foot fall. He shot off flares into the night sky hoping someone would see, pausing when he passed through a freezing layer in the sky and his hands went numb. He struggled unsuccessfully to get his steel-toe boots off before he hit the water.

Falling 800 feet per minute, Smith and Resilard splashed into the Pacific. Smith was bruised, and he was shivering, but his head bobbed above the water and the reflective tape on his helmet could help rescuers spot him.

Resilard, who had landed far from Smith, was in worse shape. Blood was pooling on his brain. But he was active and conscious. He had a wristwatch, the kind runners use to keep track of distance traveled and calories burned. It showed Resilard’s pulse was strong, over 100 beats per minute.

Rescuers should have been on the way.

Smith’s location beacon failed in the water, but he got his radio to transmit his location.

Resilard had less luck. Injured, cold, he couldn’t get his radio to work. He couldn’t punch in the broadcast sequencing right. While the radios can be configured to transmit coordinates automatically, the Marine Corps had chosen not to adopt the practice.

Resilard’s circumstances only worsened. His location beacon had also malfunctioned in the water. The Marine Corps’ senior leadership knew the beacons were flawed but hadn’t replaced them.

After a deadly mishap involving a beacon two years earlier, Squadron 242’s commander tried to remedy the problem by getting replacements. But weeks before the crash the Marine Corps ordered a halt to their use because they were not officially authorized.

In the sky, the Marines on the second Hornet tried to help, radioing their Japanese allies and asking for rescue aircraft. It was all but futile.

Years earlier, the U.S. had struck an agreement giving responsibility for the search and rescue of American forces in the region to the Japanese military. The American commanders who’d ordered up the December training mission, however, were unaware of one wrinkle: The Japanese would only be available to help in emergencies if their forces were also actively training.

That night in December, the Japanese were not. Help, if it could make it, was hours away.

At 68 degrees, the sea water was not immediately lethal. But hypothermia would eventually set in.

Three hours after the crash, Smith and Resilard were still waiting. Smith had managed to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

This is part of a continuing series of articles on the US Navy’s loss of competence over the past several years, a series that is a damning indictment of irresponsibility and unaccountability up through the ranks of the Navy to the Executive Branch and Congress. It is another indicator that the US has lost the ability to get things done at the Federal level.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2019 at 8:22 am

RazoRock Bruce, Mama Bear Buttercream, iKon X3, RazoRock Barberpole, and Stetson

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Every item in today’s shave is really first-rate. The Bruce brush made a superb lather — in both fragrance and consistency — from Mama Bear’s Buttercream shave stick. Mama Bear’s soaps do lather uncommonly well, at least if the water’s not terribly hard. The iKon X3 produced an extremely smooth result, perhaps assisted by the stubble’s two-day length (I never understood why the result should be better if the stubble’s longer, but it does seem to happen), and that RazoRock Barberpole handle is marvelous.

A splash of Stetson, and the week is well launched. I used Stetson to again see whether it bears any relation (in terms of Western theme) to Solstice, and it does not, but it is a very nice aftershave on its own, introduced in 1981. Basenotes.net identifies the scent profile:

  1. Top Notes
    Lemon,
    Lime,
    Bergamot,
    Lavender
  2. Heart Notes
    Patchouli,
    Jasmin,\Vetiver
  3. Base notes
    Amber,
    Tonka

I, of course, love the vanilla note that Tonka provides. But no trace of Sage, as you see. It really is a fine fragrance, and I notice that it was a FiFi award winner in 1982. A very nice aftershave to have in the cabinet.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2019 at 8:13 am

Posted in Shaving

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