Later On

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

Archive for August 25th, 2020

Police Are Using ‘Super Recognizers’ Like Me to Track Criminals

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Jak Hutchcraft writes in Vox:

The past few years has seen as an increasing number of countries develop AI technology to track and monitor their populations. China is at the forefront of this movement, while the American Civil Liberties Union warns the United States is in danger of replicating a similar program. For the most part, however, automated facial recognition is still in its infancy and many countries rely on humans to do the job. But not just any humans—people with a rare ability to accurately recognize faces in CCTV footage regardless of the angle, or how grainy or fleeting the image.

The term “super recognizer” first appeared in 2009 and describes people who can remember more than 80 percent of the faces of people they meet (the average is 20 percent). The neural-mechanism behind super recognition is still largely unknown, but the skill seems to be genetic and possessed by only about one percent of the population.

Today, police in many countries employ super recognizers (possibly including Hong Kong) but police in the United Kingdom have recruited more than most.

Kelly Hearsey is one such super recognizer. She works for Super Recognizers International Ltd, which is contracted by a range of police departments across the country. She took a test in 2018 and got the highest score they’d ever seen from over six million candidates. She’s since worked full-time as a super recognizer on everything from murder investigations to keeping notoriously disruptive fans out of sporting events.

VICE News caught up with her to hear what it’s like to have a real-life superpower.

VICE: Hi Kelly, what made you want to take the test in the first place?
Kelly Hearsey: I always knew I was good at recognizing faces. I’d be in the street and I’d see a face and know that it was my friend’s sister from when we were six. The last time I saw them could’ve been over 30 years ago. I’d go up to them and say “Oh my god, Amber, I can’t believe it, how’re you doing?” and she’d look at me blankly. It happened so often that I just thought I took more notice of people and I was completely forgettable. But it turns out that from a tiny millisecond—I don’t even need to get a good look at someone, I can just glance over my shoulder and back again—I’ll know who they are from decades ago.

Silly things like that gave me a clue I might be good at it. So that’s why I was quite excited to take the test, and I’m glad I did.

Now I’ve probably done the most civilian work of any Super Recognizer in the country, or in fact probably anywhere in the world because we’re leading the way globally. It’s unbelievable. It’s been a rollercoaster!

Now, you’re not just recognizing faces. You also immediately link their appearance to a memory of who they are and how you know them. So it’s memory as well as facial recognition, right?
Yes and this is why we’re really good for things like fast-moving investigations. I don’t have to sit and look for a while, or sit and absorb somebody’s facial features. I can be shown somebody’s face for a couple of seconds and it’s then built into my memory. It’s really spooky and it’s quite cool when it happens.

Are you always accurate?
Yes, I just know 100 percent. You don’t have a situation where you go, “I think that might be matey from my old job”. It’s really solid and definite.

Did you have to do any training once you found out you had the skill? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2020 at 6:15 pm

Another Lesson From the Roman Empire

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James Fallows writes in the Atlantic:

A year ago, I published a piece in the print magazine about that long-standing object of American fascination, the Roman Empire. Usually, and usefully, Americans have over the centuries looked to Rome for guidance on how their nation could avoid the predictable slide from republic to empire to conquest and dissolution. My favorite in this genre is the wonderful 2007 book Are We Rome?, by my friend (and Atlantic colleague) Cullen Murphy.

But for last year’s piece I discussed some other books, arguing that what happened to Rome after the fall of the Western empire is what Americans should be studying. Especially in this era when central government—leadership on the imperial scale, you might say—was faltering, and when our counterparts to the Roman provinces (that is, our cities and states and regions) were by comparison so much more practical-minded and functional.

My friend Eric Schnurer, who has worked in and written extensively (including for The Atlantic) about governance at all levels, wrote a response that highlighted some additional areas of useful comparison between the America of our time and the Rome of yesteryear. Now he is back with an extension of his argument. He calls this dispatch “From Sulla to Sullen: What the Fall of the Roman Republic Tells Us About Where Trump Is Taking Us.” I think it is instructive and worth reading, and with his permission I quote it below.

Schnurer began by directing attention away from the end of the empire, and instead to:

… the approaching decline of the Roman Republic, a half-millennium earlier.  As I wrote last year, “the increasing economic inequality, the increasing political polarization, the total eclipse of ‘the greater good’ by what we’d call ‘special interests,’ the turn toward political violence” all  looked “a lot like the present moment to me.” I was thinking of the period dominated by the attempted reforms of the Gracchi brothers—a tag-team somewhat analogous to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren —roughly a century before the Republic’s ultimate fall into dictatorship.

I hardly expected then that within about half a year, Donald Trump would manage to fast-forward the country through half a century of Roman history, to the doorstep of the Civil Wars that destroyed what little was left of Republican Rome.

Of course, no historical analogy is exact. The collapse of the Republic was brought on by a combination of structural flaws in its politics and governance, and the self-serving ambitions of ruthless individuals that exploited them. While the causes were many, inter-related, and complex, at their root was a system that defied any notion of the common good and was devoid of political means to resolve rather than exacerbate division.

The Republic was the creation of a tight-knit oligarchy that had overthrown the preceding monarchy and, as a result, held a deep-seated determination never again to allow any one individual to accumulate so much power as to overawe all others.

The solution was not so much a separation of powers, as we conceive of it—officials simultaneously played executive, legislative and even judicial roles—as a vast multiplicity of individuals who could hold their posts only once, and for only a year. But this was no “citizen’s republic”:  A small coterie of privileged families held almost all these offices and voting was severely limited.

Moreover, the term republic—from the Latin for “a thing of the public”—was meant to distinguish it from a monarchy, which was essentially the personal property of the ruler in which other people simply happened to live. But the Roman Republic was more like what we might think of as a “publicly held corporation” and, essentially, treated as private property. Officials used public office to profit personally and directly (and openly).

Of course, it takes money to make money, so only the very wealthy could afford to pursue these rewards because, along the way, they were expected personally to pay for the lavish spectacles, such as the famous gladiatorial games, that sated the public, as well as major public works and public building projects. The Roman state, in short, while ostensibly “public,” had long since been thoroughly privatized.

This state was essentially an increasingly imperial business enterprise, in the guise of a government. The expanding conquests, which were basically run as profit centers, undercut the working populations in the city through a growing influx of slave labor, and drove rural residents off their land through collapsing agricultural prices due to burgeoning grain imports—the automation and offshoring of their day.

These developments nonetheless personally benefited the wealthy Senatorial and governing elite that wielded government power increasingly for the sole private benefit of its members. This led to spiraling social tensions that, when they flared into violence, were resolved through grudging concessions rather than fundamental—and democratizing—changes.

The “radical” Warren-esque reforms of the Gracchis, who themselves were highly patrician, arguably aimed to save their own class from themselves as much as saving the Republic, by creating economic safety valves not unlike the patrician Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal at the depths of the Great Depression. The elites were too selfish, or shortsighted, or both, to see the wisdom—resulting in a violent uprising of the dispossessed known as “the Social War.” Conceptions of a greater good shared broadly amongst a frontier people who had thrown off their king, and came together especially in times of external threat, had long since melted away before the pursuit of personal wealth and power. Politics could no longer bridge the divides, because the threat did not come from without: The enemy was the other within.


In this res public largely eviscerated of any sense of the “public,” politics and government increasingly degenerated further into the personal.  Wealthy politicians vied for, and alternated in power, with the support of their own personal parties, armed factions, and the communications media of the day (Julius Caesar, with his Commentaries on his subjugation of Gaul, was a master of this). By a half-century after the Gracchis’ reforms were beaten back, extremely different visions of governing structure, social issues, and economics eventually confronted each other for power in the form of essentially personalized states built largely around either Gaius Marius or Lucius Cornelius Sulla.

And that might be where we find ourselves today. While the political parallels are far from perfect, Marius, hardly a blameless figure, personified the cause of the populares—what we might think of as more-or-less progressive, advocating for an expanded democracy and economic redistribution. Sulla, a patrician who indulged a fairly libertine, sometimes vulgar, lifestyle even throughout his several marriages, was nonetheless the champion of the economic, social and political conservatives, prevailed and eventually became dictator.

While Roman politics had long been a nasty affair, Sulla was the first to institutionalize “proscription”—the practice of declaring your opponents “enemies of the state” and thereby licensing open-hunting season on them. He also became the first ever to violate perhaps the most deeply held norm of the Republic’s unwritten constitution—that no general was ever to lead armed forces across the sacred boundary, the pomerium, of Rome itself—which set the precedent for Julius Caesar’s later, and more famous, crossing of the Rubicon that all but marked the end of the Republic, and Rome’s imperfect democracy, for good.

Now, within the last month, President Trump has . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2020 at 2:12 pm

An example of why learning Esperanto as a first foreign language is helpful

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Learning a new language presents certain intrinsic difficulties — a new vocabulary is an obvious example. But it has been said that if you want a horse to jump a fence, make the fence as low as possible — that is, remove or reduce barriers to the action you want.

So if you simply want to learn a new language, pick one with the fewest barriers. For example, one that has no irregular verbs or complicated tenses; one that does not require you to learn the gender of each noun; one that provides tools to make it easier to learn vocabulary; one whose grammar is simple, regular, and free of exceptions to the rules.

Esperanto has all that, but there remain essential and intrinsic difficulties, and one reason Esperanto works so well as a first foreign language — being relatively easy to learn and (important point) makes learning subsequent languages easier — is that because the rest of the language is easy, you can focus on the intrinsic difficulties and learn how to attack those.

In effect, Esperanto offers a good environment for learning how to learn a language.

One common difficulty for beginners is wanting to say something — a specific sentence — and not knowing one of the words in the sentence. The difficulty diminishes as your vocabulary increases, of course, but it also diminishes as the student learns how to rephrase the thought using the vocabulary he or she already knows. Rather than simply getting stuck, students fairly quickly learn how to workaround the gap in their knowledge.

Another difficulty is when you know the foreign word for an English word (e.g., “kuri” in Esperanto means “to run” in English), and then use the word in contexts where the sense is very idiomatic.  Lee Miller offers some examples in the Duolingo group on Facebook. He writes:

In English, forms called “phrasal verbs” are used all the time. These are expressions formed of a verb plus a preposition, that yield a unique meaning.

A recent thread about the different meanings of the word “run” made me think it’s important to point out these phrasal verbs, because when you’re learning Esperanto vocabulary very often the literal meaning of the verb in English doesn’t apply.

Consider:

run aground
run along
run behind
run down
run out
run over
run short
run together
run upon

If you translate any of these sentences, the Esperanto word “kuri” is not going to be involved:

The ship ran aground.
I need to run along.
I’m running behind.
My clock ran down, and I’m feeling run down.
I ran out of energy.
The car ran over a board.
We had enough, but now we’re running short.
All his words run together.
I ran upon an interesting article yesterday.

Always think about “What does this sentence or phrase mean?” instead of “What does each of these individual words mean?”

Another example, not a phrase: “He’s running a temperature?” I would definitely not use “kuri” for the verb. (Verbs are trick: if you want to say “that clock doesn’t work” in Esperanto, the verb would not be “laboras” (works) but “funkcias” (functions — “works” in an idiomatic sense.)

As you practice Esperanto, you develop a sense of phrasing that is not literal — you become aware of when you using words beyond their literal meaning — and that helps you focus on the actual content of the thought you’re trying expressed and not mired down in a word-by-word translation that will be confusing to a non-English speaker.

Once you become sensitive to the traps and errors that idiomatic English presents, you can carry that into your next foreign language: the skill (and knowledge) is transferable, and since you already have it (from having studied Esperanto), you can save time and effort that you’ll need for (say) mastering the various conjugations and irregular verbs of the next language you learn. In this way, learning the next language after learning Esperanto is easier because you can use skills and knowledge you have already gained.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2020 at 12:17 pm

Posted in Education, Esperanto

Realtor picked her pear tree clean while showing her house

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The report does not say whether he stole household goods, but clearly this realtor does not understand property rights, which I think would be the first thing a realtor understands. The report (with security-cam footage showing the theft in progress) is interesting but has some glaring omissions.

1) The act was not described as “stealing” or “theft.” The act was always called “picking fruit,” which is not a crime unless you are taking fruit that does not belong to you, in which case “stealing” or “theft” is the word to use.  The reporter perhaps thought that the realtor was merely borrowing the fruit and would return it later. I think it is more likely that the realtor was stealing the fruit (and possibly other things as well).

2) The story several times mentions “apology” but never mentions “restitution,” which is the point of interest. Of course the man (who, mysteriously, is not named, a major omission) is indeed sorry that he didn’t know there was a security camera.. However, what I’d like to know is what restitution will be made — by the thief and/or his employer — to the property owner. Apologies are all well and good, but the fruit is gone and there seems to be absolutely no movement by agency or individual to make any sort of restitution for the stolen fruit.

Consider what the story would be if the realtor had spotted a handsome clock as he went through the house and took the clock with him when he left.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2020 at 11:53 am

Her Former Colleagues Called In a “Wellness Check.” Then Police Shot Her to Death.

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Natasha Lennard reports in the Intercept:

NEUROLOGIST EUGENE TOLOMEO documented an appointment with his patient Sandy Guardiola that took place on October 3, 2017. “She smiles often,” he wrote. She was in “good spirits.”

Guardiola, a parole officer in upstate New York, was scheduled to start work at a new office location following a four-week medical leave after a car accident. She asked the doctor to sign paperwork allowing her to return to her job. She was, he noted, “excited about going back to work.”

When Guardiola’s two adult children spoke to her that week, they said she seemed well. To this day, they do not understand why a police officer was sent to their mother’s apartment in Canandaigua, New York, to carry out a wellness check on October 4. Neither of them had been called, although they were listed as her emergency contacts at work. All they know is that Scott Kadien of the Canandaigua Police Department entered Guardiola’s home without her permission and shot her three times while she was in her bed. She died in the hospital that afternoon.

The police shooting of a Latina woman in a small upstate New York town, with a population that is 96 percent white, did not make national news. Even local coverage was scant. A grand jury declined to charge Kadien, who claimed that Guardiola shot at him first (she legally owned a gun, owing to her job).

Amid national antiracist uprisings, however, with renewed focus on the plague of racist police killings, Guardiola’s son and daughter are pushing for their mother’s story to become known. Hers is one of all too many deaths that illustrate the risk of entrusting police forces with overseeing community wellness. And, like most every police killing, the story of Guardiola’s death is one of cop impunity, unanswered questions, and ongoing injustice.

“Everything we’ve turned up about this case has been outrage after outrage,” said Luna Droubi, an attorney representing Guardiola’s children, Andrew and Alysa Ocasio. In 2018, the family filed a federal civil rights suit against the Canandaigua police, the city, Kadien, Guardiola’s apartment complex, and her employer. The case is ongoing, with Guardiola’s children striving to correct the public record about their mother’s death. Droubi told me that even the wellness-check request call, which catalyzed the deadly course of events, was “illogical.”

The call was made by parole officers in Rochester, New York, where Guardiola had stopped working prior to her accident, having already chosen to transfer to a different location. According to her children, Guardiola said she faced discrimination in the Rochester office; she was due to start work in Binghamton, New York, following her approved medical leave.

Yet it was her former office colleagues who called 911 to request a wellness check. Guardiola did not pick up her phone or respond to knocks on her apartment door. Her children believe that she had gone to bed in the afternoon, taken a sleeping aid, and put in ear plugs, knowing that she’d have to wake up extremely early the next day to embark on her new, three-hour commute to work.

The police officer, Kadien, entered Guardiola’s apartment with a master key fob. He claims that he announced himself many times and only fired his weapon after Guardiola shot first. A bullet from Guardiola’s gun was indeed found at the scene, but in the wall far to the side of where Kadien had stood to shoot her. The trajectory of that bullet, and the nature of the bullet wounds in Guardiola’s body, her children’s legal team says, suggest that she was defensively covering her face when her weapon went off. According to a statement from the attorneys’ firm, which hired a renowned forensic pathologist to review the case, “the evidence clearly suggests that Ms. Guardiola was shot while she was reaching for her weapon and that at no time did she pose a threat to Sergeant Kadien.” As Droubi told me, “the forensics speak for themselves.”

Other troubling details haunt the scene. Why, for example, did the officer call for police backup after the shooting, before calling for the emergency medical technicians who were on standby across the street? There was a 10-minute gap, while Guardiola was still alive yet bleeding to death, between the shots firing and the medics being summoned. Why was Guardiola put in handcuffs? “They were supposed to be there for her wellness, not to apprehend a criminal,” her 24-year-old daughter, Alysa, told me.

And why, in the immediate aftermath, did law enforcement officials lead Guardiola’s family to believe that she had effectively committed suicide-by-cop? “I had just spoken to her,” Alysa said, echoing the words of the doctor that she had been in “good spirits” and was making future plans. “We knew something was very off,” Guardiola’s son, Andrew, said of the police narrative.

THE RECENT antiracist uprisings have given rise to crucial and long overdue challenges to the role of policing in the U.S. A vast array of roles performed by cops, to the detriment of so many lives, should be carried out by social, health care, and community workers, untangled from a system of criminal justice, surveillance, and violence. Resource redistribution is necessary for wellness; the brutal policing of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities is not. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2020 at 11:37 am

Close-up magic: Astounding trick

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Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2020 at 11:05 am

Posted in Video

Tempeh at 66 hours and done

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Lesson learned: mix in the starter culture better. I think the bottom center just wasn’t well mixed in.

It’s a good batch, and I’ll start consuming it today, probably cutting strips and sautéing them to add to my meal. I have my little Matfer Bourgeat skillet ready for the job.

Tempeh is one of the “live-culture” foods (like kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, and others) that help your gut microbiome flourish.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2020 at 10:56 am

Posted in Food, Non-animal diet

That D.R. Harris lather! And that Marlborough fragrance!

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D.R. Harris makes a fine lather, and the Marlborough fragrance is one of my favorites: “cedar, sandalwood, and notes of spice” is their description. The brush is the RazoRock Bruce, which has the same knot as yesterday’s RazoRock Keyhole brush: a 22mm synthetic.

My stainless RazoRock Mamba is an excellent razor, and three passes did the job — and then a splash of Marlborough aftershave to carry the fragrance forward.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2020 at 10:09 am

Posted in Shaving

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