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n the Age of Google DeepMind, Do the Young Go Prodigies of Asia Have a Future?

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Dawn Chan in the New Yorker:

Choong-am Dojang is far from a typical Korean school. Its best pupils will never study history or math, nor will they receive traditional high-school diplomas. The academy, which operates above a bowling alley on a narrow street in northwestern Seoul, teaches only one subject: the game of Go, known in Korean as baduk and in Chinese as wei qi. Each day, Choong-am’s students arrive at nine in the morning, find places at desks in a fluorescent-lit room, and play, study, memorize, and review games—with breaks for cafeteria meals or an occasional soccer match—until nine at night.
Choong-am, which is the product of a merger between four top Go academies, is currently the biggest of a handful of _dojang_s in South Korea. Many of the students enrolled in these schools have been training since they were four or five, perhaps playing informally at first but later growing obsessed with the game’s beauty and the competitiveness and camaraderie that surround it. (Indeed, the word “dojang” more commonly refers to a martial-arts academy.) Lee Hajin, the secretary-general of the International Go Federation, told me that she left home when she was nine. With only her clothes and a stuffed-toy poodle backpack that her parents gave her for Christmas, she moved across the country, into the home of a Go master and his wife.
The aim of all serious Go pupils is ultimately to be designated a professional. This makes them eligible to compete in Asia’s pro tournaments, which are broadcast on TV and sponsored by companies such as Samsung, LG, and the instant-noodle maker Nongshim. At the highest-level tournaments, first-place winners can win as much as three hundred thousand dollars. But the competition is fierce. It is estimated that, of South Korea’s three hundred and twenty pros, only around fifty are able to earn a living on tournament winnings. Sometimes, after losing an especially important match, players joke about drowning themselves in the Han River. Lee Hajin recalls having such bad insomnia before important games that her teacher’s wife would bring her a shot of whiskey, diluted in a cup of water, to help her fall asleep.
Go itself is simple in design but complex in its possible outcomes: two players, one using white stones and the other black, take turns placing their pieces on a square board, capturing territory and boxing each other out. If a child dedicating her life to such a game seems unfathomable elsewhere in the world, it makes more sense in East Asia, where Go has a twenty-five-hundred-year cultural history. Through the centuries, princes, generals, monks, and farmers have played the game, not only to win but to build character and develop mental acumen. “It’s also psychology, philosophy—it’s art,” Fan Hui, the reigning European Go champion, told me. In Tang-dynasty China, the game was considered one of the four arts that a cultivated gentleman ought to master, along with calligraphy, painting, and playing the lute. So many East Asian leaders have studied it that political scientists are wont to identify traces of Go strategy in the continent’s real-world conflicts. Henry Kissinger, for instance, argued that during the Taiwan Strait crisis of the nineteen-fifties, “both sides were playing by wei qi rules.” Today, Seoul’s Myongji University even offers degrees in Go studies. According to Daniela Trinks, a professor in the department, one in four Koreans knows how to play the game.
But recent events could pose a threat to Go’s cultural supremacy. Earlier this week, one of the world’s top players, Lee Sedol, lost two high-profile matches—the first of a planned five—to AlphaGo, an artificial-intelligence program created by Google DeepMind. The same program beat Fan Hui, 5–0, back in October. Until then, Go had been considered the only popular two-player board game that humans would continue to dominate for the foreseeable future, its array of outcomes still too dizzyingly vast for even increasingly smart machines to pick out the best moves. That, of course, has now changed. Even if Lee miraculously comes back to win his remaining three games, the first of which takes place on Saturday, in Seoul, AlphaGo promises to grow even more formidable. (“If there’s a limit to improvement, we haven’t hit it yet,” Demis Hassabis, DeepMind’s founder and C.E.O., told me.) What’s notable, too, is how quickly AlphaGo improves compared with humans. The program lost two quick, unofficial matches with Fan Hui that were scheduled between longer, official ones, which the computer won. Five months later, it is capable of defeating Lee, who is ranked far higher than Fan. According to Ben Lockhart, one of the best amateur Go players born outside East Asia, Fan “could have trained his whole life and would never have gotten close to where Lee Sedol is.”
Lockhart, as it happens, is the lone American pupil currently enrolled at Choong-am. He is an anomaly at the dojang, not just because he is a foreigner but also because he has memories of a life without intensive Go. When he was in high school, in Brooklyn, playing the game but also “smoking a lot of weed and listening to Noam Chomsky in Prospect Park,” his peers in Seoul were already deep into their training regimens. Now, however, Lockhart is more disciplined. Last Friday, he began his morning by trying to make progress through a book of six hundred Go problems. These exercise books are a common component of Go pedagogy, as are actual matches and occasional lectures by professionals. Students sometimes memorize parts of games, or even whole games, from the canon. They also practice specific skills, such as “reading,” or peering into the future at branching paths of possibility—an activity that’s not dissimilar to the so-called tree-search components of AlphaGo and many other game-playing A.I.s.
In the long course of their training, students may play upwards of ten thousand games, developing intuitions about which moves tend to work out well and which don’t. AlphaGo, analogously, improves by playing itself, with the added advantage that it can flit through games quickly, while humans take time to think and place stones on a board. (In January, the DeepMind team published a paper in Nature noting that one of AlphaGo’s neural networks had played more than a million games in a single day.) But there is one particularly interesting difference between a dojang’s pedagogical program and AlphaGo’s: human students receive active guidance from teachers, who can draw attention to specific mistakes or suggest generalized patterns to seek out or avoid. According to DeepMind’s most recent account, although AlphaGo’s learning is shaped by observations of expert human games, it doesn’t receive targeted advice from any outsiders.
Although some Go players are eager to see whether computers will unlock undiscovered moves and strategies, others seem despondent. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 August 2017 at 3:26 pm

Best practices for passwords updated after original author regrets his advice

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The XKCD cartoon above is from Nick Statt’s article in Verge, which begins:

A vast majority of the trusted tips and tricks we employ when crafting a custom password actually make us more vulnerable to hackers, according to the expert who popularized the tips back in 2003. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, former National Institute of Standards and Technology manager Bill Burr admitted that a document he authored on crafting strong passwords was misguided. “Much of what I did I now regret,” says Burr, who is 72 years old and now retired.

The problem wasn’t that Burr was advising people to make passwords that are inherently easy to crack, but that his advice steered everyday computer users toward lazy mistakes and easy-to-predict practices. Burr’s eight-page password document, titled “NIST Special Publication 800-63. Appendix A,” advised people to use irregular capitalization, special characters, and at least one numeral. That might result in a password like “P@ssW0rd123!” While that may make it seem secure on the surface (neglecting, of course, that “password” is a bad password), the issue is that most people tend to use the same exact techniques when crafting these digital combo locks. That results in strings of characters and numbers that hackers could easily predict and algorithms that specifically target those weaknesses.

Even worse, Burr suggested people should change passwords regularly, at least every 90 days. This advice, which was then adopted by academic institutions, government bodies, and large corporations, pushed users to make easy-to-crack passwords. Most people can probably point to a password they’ve created that was deemed strong simply because it had a special character like the “!” or “?” symbol and a numeric string like “123.” And when prompted to change a password, who hasn’t altered it only slightly to avoid the hassle of coming up with an all-new code? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 August 2017 at 10:51 am

Cool animated GIFs

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2017 at 10:08 am

Posted in Software

Clickbait For the Day (and also ominous): How China Might Rule the World By 2050

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And the US drops back, on all fronts. Read Kevin Drum’s post.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2017 at 8:02 pm

It’s worse than we thought: A Cyberattack ‘the World Isn’t Ready For’

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Nicole Perlroth has a frightening report in the NY Times:

There have been times over the last two months when Golan Ben-Oni has felt like a voice in the wilderness.

On April 29, someone hit his employer, IDT Corporation, with two cyberweapons that had been stolen from the National Security Agency. Mr. Ben-Oni, the global chief information officer at IDT, was able to fend them off, but the attack left him distraught.

In 22 years of dealing with hackers of every sort, he had never seen anything like it. Who was behind it? How did they evade all of his defenses? How many others had been attacked but did not know it?

Since then, Mr. Ben-Oni has been sounding alarm bells, calling anyone who will listen at the White House, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the New Jersey attorney general’s office and the top cybersecurity companies in the country to warn them about an attack that may still be invisibly striking victims undetected around the world.

(p>And he is determined to track down whoever did it.

“I don’t pursue every attacker, just the ones that piss me off,” Mr. Ben-Oni told me recently over lentils in his office, which was strewn with empty Red Bull cans. “This pissed me off and, more importantly, it pissed my wife off, which is the real litmus test.”

Two weeks after IDT was hit, the cyberattack known as WannaCry ravaged computers at hospitals in England, universities in China, rail systems in Germany, even auto plants in Japan. No doubt it was destructive. But what Mr. Ben-Oni had witnessed was much worse, and with all eyes on the WannaCry destruction, few seemed to be paying attention to the attack on IDT’s systems — and most likely others around the world.

The strike on IDT, a conglomerate with headquarters in a nondescript gray building here with views of the Manhattan skyline 15 miles away, was similar to WannaCry in one way: Hackers locked up IDT data and demanded a ransom to unlock it.

But the ransom demand was just a smoke screen for a far more invasive attack that stole employee credentials. With those credentials in hand, hackers could have run free through the company’s computer network, taking confidential information or destroying machines.

Worse, the assault, which has never been reported before, was not spotted by some of the nation’s leading cybersecurity products, the top security engineers at its biggest tech companies, government intelligence analysts or the F.B.I., which remains consumed with the WannaCry attack.

Were it not for a digital black box that recorded everything on IDT’s network, along with Mr. Ben-Oni’s tenacity, the attack might have gone unnoticed.

Scans for the two hacking tools used against IDT indicate that the company is not alone. In fact, tens of thousands of computer systems all over the world have been “backdoored” by the same N.S.A. weapons. Mr. Ben-Oni and other security researchers worry that many of those other infected computers are connected to transportation networks, hospitals, water treatment plants and other utilities.

An attack on those systems, they warn, could put lives at risk. And Mr. Ben-Oni, fortified with adrenaline, Red Bull and the house beats of Deadmau5, the Canadian record producer, said he would not stop until the attacks had been shut down and those responsible were behind bars.

“The world is burning about WannaCry, but this is a nuclear bomb compared to WannaCry,” Mr. Ben-Oni said. “This is different. It’s a lot worse. It steals credentials. You can’t catch it, and it’s happening right under our noses.”

And, he added, “The world isn’t ready for this.”

Targeting the Nerve Center . . .

Continue reading.

It gets worse. Later:

. . , No one he has spoken to knows whether they have been hit, but just this month, restaurants across the United States reported being hit with similar attacks that were undetected by antivirus systems. There are now YouTube videos showing criminals how to attack systems using the very same N.S.A. tools used against IDT, and Metasploit, an automated hacking tool, now allows anyone to carry out these attacks with the click of a button.

Worse still, Mr. Ben-Oni said, “No one is running point on this.” . . .


. . . Last month, he personally briefed the F.B.I. analyst in charge of investigating the WannaCry attack. He was told that the agency had been specifically tasked with WannaCry, and that even though the attack on his company was more invasive and sophisticated, it was still technically something else, and therefore the F.B.I. could not take on his case.

The F.B.I. did not respond to requests for comment. . .

The US will be destroyed because of bureaucratic turf issues.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2017 at 8:37 pm

And Just Like That, Google Becomes The World’s Largest Job Board

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Mark Wilson writes in Co.Design:

Monster. CareerBuilder. GlassDoor. LinkedIn. When you’re looking for a new job, you’re required to dig through countless job boards, managing logins and apps. Or it did. Now you can just google it.

Starting today, when you search something like “jobs near me” or “restaurant jobs in Chicago,” you’ll be ushered to a new part of Google Search called Google for Jobs. Here, you can further specify the opportunity you’re looking for, and Google will list opportunities from some of the largest employer databases on the web (including every site mentioned at the top of this article).

The search tool should do a lot to streamline the job hunt. It can even give you a desktop alert or email notification as new jobs matching your criteria are posted.

But on a broader level, what’s so incredible about this feature is how swiftly and efficiently Google can disrupt an industry, just by adding some new capabilities to the Swiss army knife that is Search.

Google tells Co.Design that no money is exchanging hands to get partners using its new Cloud Jobs API–which is what powers this experience. The company has no plans for monetization of the platform at this time, aside from its standard ad practices. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2017 at 5:17 pm

Workflowy mayo

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I’ve been using Workflowy a lot, and it’s turning out to be surprisingly useful.

It’s an outliner that you run in your browser, and it’s free. Its operation is in general intuitive, but it has some special tricks, so click “Help” and watch all the little 1-minute videos. You can space them out: they’re in order of relative importance and usefulness.

You have just one giant outline, but if you click the bullet for any item, then you get the outline of that item as the main heading, and all the children beneath, with a diagram at the top that allows you to back out by clicking on the level you want.

I in fact just used it after a phone call with TYD in which we exchanged cooking discoveries and ideas, and one thing I contributed was my experience in making mayo with an immersion blender in the little plastic beaker you get with it. The recipe makes one cup, and it is so easy and quick that I no longer buy mayo at all, just make up a cup and use it. When it’s gone, make another cup.

So that’s the node I’m going to share to (a) let you know how I make mayo and (b) let you get a feel for what Workflowy is like.

Again, I have just one giant outline, any level of which can be clicked to make it the top of an outline with its children beneath. Making mayo is just one node way down in my one giant outline, and I’m sharing it with you. Because sharing is fun, as our moms used to say.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2017 at 5:22 pm

Posted in Recipes, Software

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