"History is just people doing things"
THE ABQ CORRESPONDENT
ISSN 1087-2302 Online Edition Number 270......May 2018
Published since 1985 for clients and contacts
ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE AND WAR…well, maybe
We are barraged with warnings that machine intelligence (whatever it turns out to be) is a serious threat to humanity. The Correspo has observed that people have a head start over the machines, and should be able to outwit, maybe subvert them to protect ourselves. People have already been experimenting with defeating smart machines, and that’s being viewed with alarm as well. What if somebody tricks an automated car into driving through stoplights, or figures out biases built into machine learning, and uses them to confuse or defeat that learning? A team at the University of Washington has published a paper looking into the legal implications of such activity, and matters seem mighty complicated. Might it be illegal to mask your identity from facial recognition? The pranksters at UW also purchased some DNA from a public source, had it analyzed, producing a report in digital format, then inserted malicious code into the data in that report, and fed it to another system for additional analysis. The malware seized control of that second system. This is regarded by some as trivial nonsense, a rigged situation in which the experimenters controlled too many of the variables to make it a serious demonstration of anything…but they did it with not much effort at modest cost. Another straw in the wind--automobile manufacturers have to take new model designs out on the roads to test them months before they want anybody else to see and figure out the details of the new designs. They often cover the cars with baffling patterns (sort of like the dazzle camouflage on warships during WWI) that mislead the human eye and confound the auto-focus feature of the cameras that we all carry in this Age of Unmitigated Communication. It’s hard to say how well the method works, but they keep using it. It’s probably illegal to wear a mask in public as a general thing in most jurisdictions; might it become illegal to camouflage a vehicle? The much hailed and hated autonomous cars might be confused by it. Perhaps the selection of things we buy will be limited to officially approved shapes, colors, patterns, and forms. Our medicine to defend against machine intelligence comes with interesting side effects. This may take some years to play out.
A TIP OF THE HAT
On March 24, Debbie Lee Carrington died, age 58. A Little Person, 3’10” she made a good career in movies and television, and traveled the world as a celebrity (an Ewok). She was a good friend of Brock’s, they having met during a Child’s Play production. She visited him often in the years he was wheelchair-bound with MS. Once when she had a cold she carefully sat on a couch across the room, so he wouldn’t catch it. Garth answered the door when Debbie’s ride came to pick her up. Her ride was Lucy Lawless, Xena the Warrior Princess, 5’9½.” As the visitors were leaving, Brock broke into tears. Debbie couldn’t give him a hug because of her cold…so Xena did. Garth was impressed.
Debbie encouraged Brock to set up the trust that Garth has been administering these post-Brock couple of years, and she signed as a witness.
When she was leaving Danielle and Jason’s wedding reception, I offered to walk her to her car. She said no, she was fine. I said it was only proper of me to escort a lady through the darkness. She said, “No, really, I’m hoping to be accosted.”
One Halloween, Danielle bristled when a kid cussed her for being miserly with the candy she was passing out at the door. The kid lifted her mask, saying “Danielle, it’s Debbie.”
Garth comments that she always had respiratory problems, and coughed a lot, but never talked about it. Proud of being not just an actress, but a tough stunt person who could take a lot of rough and tumble, she didn’t want prospective employers to be uneasy about her.
Debbie played very well the cards that were dealt her.
John Mauldin referred in one of his excellent newsletters to Kilkenomics, “the world’s first festival of economics and comedy,” of which he approved. Recalls Bro Jeff’s tagline for his company Ft. Mudge Productions: “Serving the Comedy Needs of Industry since Tuesday.”
You can't deal rationally with a nut. When reason is irrelevant, you have three options: 1) Try reason and lose. 2) Break off contact. 3) Become non-rational yourself, doing whatever nuttiness is required to come to terms that serve your interest. Option #3 is hard work, but often more productive and entertaining than the others.
An example: My very French mother-in-law was moving into a new apartment; the guy moving out of it wanted to sell his installed washing machine. He was asking a firm $175. One evening she said “Come on beeg boy, we buy a wahsheeng mahsheen,” and away we went. At the time, I was the worst major appliance salesman ever employed by Levy Bros department store in San Mateo, California. Looking at the machine, Mrs. Dupey Harvey Lardinois flipped the lid a couple of times, and said. “Right away, I weel ‘ave feefty dollars re-pair.” This was obviously crazy, and if he had responded in kind, they’d have had a real negotiation. Instead, he said reasonably. “Oh, no I just had it checked by a service guy.” “I know about wahsheeng masheens,” she said. “I ‘ad one in Sheek-ago.”* She pointed to me. “My son-een-law, “’e knows about wahsheeng mahsheens.” Unable to frown convincingly I offered a weak smile. Luckily, I didn’t have to speak, because she pressed on vigorously while he stuttered. She paid $100 for the wahsheeng mahsheen that served her well for many years. You can’t deal rationally with a nut.
Of course, this particular nut had supported herself and daughters just after the liberation of Belgium by the Allies by negotiating the purchase of scrap metal from reviving factories around Brussels. She didn’t know a piece of brass from a piece of cheese, but she was told what size, color, etc…to look for and the maximum price she could pay. With a combination of charm and driving the factory managers bananas, she bought a lot of metal at low prices.
Very French, yes, but she herself stopped and stared at a 1967 tv news broadcast showing Charles DeGaulle singing La Marseillaise while visiting Quebec. (This was the trip on which he distressed the Canadian Federal Government by saying publicly “Vive le Québec libre.”) She watched Le Grande Charles, and said “ ‘ow can anyone be zat French?”
* Sheek-ago, Illinois.
ITEM FROM THE PAST
These related items from May and June 1999 are
brought to mind by the recent passing of Stephen
A POWERFUL VOICE
Larry Forsley has reported some observations on a recent contact with Stephen Hawking (who is, among other things, author of A Brief History of Time). For example: Hawking has long been nearly paralyzed by ALS, and has only limited voluntary finger and facial movement. He “speaks” by laboriously controlling a speech synthesizer with a paddle. “I think that it is a Federal Screw Works Votrax,” says Larry. “I had one of these on my TRS-80 a long time ago. They offered to upgrade his voice, but he declined. No one has that as voice now, but him.” Indeed, when we hear Hawking narrating a television program these days, we immediately recognize that distinctive voice as his. The earlier Votrax systems produced English speech with a Swedish accent. Hawking’s doesn’t. When we wondered in print twenty some years ago if the Swedes perceived the same effect, Federal Screw Works must have felt insulted, and never responded. Curiosity still gnaws. Hawking is a real virtuoso of the speech synthesizer.
After a speech by Stephen Hawking, Larry Forsley joined the reception line to speak with him about a matter of some technical interest. At length, Larry reached the great man. “I told him that I was working with a national laboratory and that we were attempting to explore Planck Scale Length phenomena, in reference to the distances where gravitational and other forces coexist as equals, and well beyond the reach of current accelerator technologies,” says Larry. “His eyebrows shot up, one of his few controllable facial expressions, at the mention of Planck Scale Length. As I watched, he began searching for a word. (ALS victim Hawking speaks through a synthesizer, controlling it with a paddle, a frustratingly slow process.) Suddenly, an elderly, short woman, strode over. She stated that the Professor was tired, and must go. I looked at Hawking trying to type as she wheeled him away. He never finished the sentence nor spoke it.” Who knows what scientifically profound comment he may have been struggling to produce...or what joke...or what question? Probably not “What’s a Planck Scale Length?
Hawking apparently continued to use the same
synthesizer for the rest of his life, with its very
distinctive sound. Presumably the sound was
exactly the same as that of a number of other
people using the same system…but we never
hear them, so Hawking seemed unique.
“Federal Screw Works” isn’t just a gag reference
to the White House or Congress, but is a real
company in Michigan that makes “cold formed
and machined parts” not including screws, as
best one can tell from their website. “Votrax,”
the manufacturer of speech synthesis systems
started in 1971 as a division of Federal Screw
Works, perhaps as a result of somebody on
FSW’s board saying “I’m sick to death of cold
forming and machining; can’t we try something
really different for a change?”
Votrax split off from FSW in 1980, and the
fellows went back exclusively to cold forming.
There’s no indication of when the famous
physicist got his artificial voice, which in the end he
was reportedly controlling with a single working
muscle in his cheek. In 1984, facing business difficulties,
Votrax transformed into a different business. Well,
good for FSW, good for Votrax, and good for the
redoubtable Dr. Hawking. His voice will be missed.
Copyright © 2018 ABQ Communications Corporation. All rights reserved.