Archives for the month of: April, 2011

times gave a good travel warning against atlanta today.  not that hotlanta is one of my favorite places to visit, but now i am especially warned not to be there in mid june and wanted to share it with the world.  apparently june 10 will be the 75th anniversary of the publication of “gone with the wind” and the book’s (and the film’s) fans will congregate in atlanta to celebrate.  to my horror, i found out that its fans call themselves “the windies”…  oh my pathetic soul…

the article even had a photo of one of the leaders of the windies, a mrs. sorrow (apt name, nonetheless), with a size 16 replica of a dress vivian leigh wore in the film.   mrs. sorrow and her band are the saddest fans of anything i’ve ever laid eyes on or read about.  that photo, with the dress, along with the rest of the pictures, may cost me thousands of dollars in therapy in the foreseeable future.

trekkies and other similar hardcore fans are pathetic as well, but in an easier to digest manner– at least there is a sense of humor in them.  it is actually fun to watch the trekkies.   but seeing the windies in action would be akin to be drugged, blindfolded and then dropped off in guantanomo.  or at a young and restless or general hospital fan conference, if there ever was such a travesty.

waffle house and denny’s waitresses parading around as southern belles, donned in homemade costumes of cheap fabric, longing for antebellum days and plantations, acting all sophisticated with the wrigley’s spearmint they took out of their mouths and affixed to the gear shift of their ’91 cavalier in the parking lot of the motel 6 where the convention is being held not even dry yet is a living nightmare, no two ways around it.  if dante added a 10th circle to his hell, that would be where i would be stuck with the windies.  can’t imagine a bigger horror.  hence, no travel to atlanta before the end of june…

speaking about atlanta, had a similar terrifying experience there the summer of 2004.  was there for a conference with a good buddy of mine.  we didn’t see much of the conference but got 86’ed from several atlanta bars.  our last day was a sunday and we found ourselves in the food court of the CNN towers with massive hangovers.  we stumbled into a sports bar for a bite to it and we found ourselves surrounded by promise keepers.  it was really scary.  on the next table there were promise keepers of assorted ages, with their brainwashed offspring and all, holding hands and praying before their meal.  my buddy just had to ask our waiter in a voice loud enough for all to hear “is there a gay convention or something going around here?” and we barely escaped there with our skins intact.  good times…

the times, catering to its demographic, published the summary of a recent research on parenting. according to the times the “gist” of the article is “older parents are happier than younger parents”! according to the mentioned studies, folks who have offspring over the age of 40 are happier than parents in their 20s. or teenage parents. such revelation! i am soo glad someone finally spent tens of thousands on research and finally figured this correlation out.

how obvious can a study get? why do you spend money to research something like this to begin with? of course older parents are happier because they have offspring. of course teenage parents or parents in their 20s are miserable. of course parenting will be a bigger pleasure when you lived longer and fulfilled many of your dreams. if you’re in your 20s and are slapped with offspring, of course it will make you miserable, at least at some level, and make you long for how you would have lived your 20s, even your 30s, without an offspring tagging along. all those travels, adventures, possible career moves and changes, personal development, education you may have to forgo because you are now responsible for a kid? come on, how obvious can you get?

saw a couple in their early 40s the other day. typical white park slope professional couple: with a pair of in vitro twins, spitting image of them, an asian daughter, apparently a purchase and a back up in case the in vitro twins did not pan out as worthy offspring, and an ethnic nanny, obviously for the offspring’s second language, tagging along. they were happy as clams. another couple, this time black and in their early 20s, not so much…

well, it is obvious for our modern western society, isn’t it? offspring later in life will bring more personal satisfaction than offspring earlier in life. this may not be true for developing countries where there is no joy in the entire shebang, it is just a natural occurrence of life, but it is true for our modern society.

needless to say it was one of the most emailed articles on the times style section this sunday. or teenage parents. an expensive and needless study but a perfect self-affirmation for the times’ demographic.

apparently there is a serial killer on the loose in long island. he is targeting prostitutes he finds on craigslist. a serial killer is no laughing matter. but, how the cops are perceiving this particular ted bundy really is. according to a recent ny times article, the cops think that the killer may be someone from law enforcement, either active or former, because he knows how cops think and is careful in not living traces.

they reached this conclusion because this dude called the victims’ families from crowded areas like the penn station with burn phones knowing that the cctv cameras will not be able to pick him up in such crowded areas and the cops will not be able to trace the burn phones.

here is an alternate theory for you investigating officers: perhaps the killer is not former or active law enforcement but a dedicated tv viewer? maybe the guy watched an episode of CSI (you pick the name of the city)? or another episode of law & order SVU? or, if he is really technologically advanced 24, or, if he has premium cable the wire? how about that?

screw the police academy, those shows give you the blueprint for committing crimes and getting away with it. if you think about everything they use to catch criminals and act accordingly, you will not be caught. like not calling your victim’s sister from your own cell phone and your mother’s family plan in front of a security camera in a deserted street in broad daylight.

you follow what CSI teaches you, which is probably beyond what a standard police department would utilize for all its cases (i’m sure the way they investigate on TV is way too expensive for most crimes) then you’ll get away with it.

or you will never commit a crime. what you see on TV, even though some of the technology TV law enforcement utilizes may be too expensive or wishful thinking, would make any smart person paranoid. achieving a perfect crime is not as easy as it was in your granddaddy’s day. so, kids, don’t commit a crime. unless you’re a mensa member and extremely “smart”—if so, knock yourself out… go get your guns mensa morons and let’s see darwin and natural selection in action…

but, if you were too stoned while watching CSI, or if you lived your entire life without the warm and deep teachings of a TV, then you’re in trouble buddy.

and that brings us to my second issue with the article and the serial killer investigation. according to the article, one investigator even exclaimed: “without question, this guy is smart, this guy is not a dope,” and continued, “it’s a guy who thinks about things”.

“not a dope” and “a guy who thinks about things”? oh my… the cops are really caught between a rock and hard place in this one, didn’t they? yeah, a dope and a guy who doesn’t think they can handle and they cherish. but not a dope and thinks about things? oh, you better watch out!

…i ran into a book i’ve been avoiding like the plague for the last few years recently.  it is called “The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World” and it is by a fella named aj jacobs, who claims to be a journalist.

i say “claims to be a journalist” because he is writing for the esquire.  i don’t think esquire had any journalistic content in the last 25 years or so.  it is nothing but a glorified newspaper advertising insert.  a better printed best buy circular or smart source coupon book, that is what esquire (and all the other lifestyle magazines) are.  monthly product placement and advertising vessels.  esquire, like many of its ilk, had journalistic content and merits decades ago.  nowadays if some good and interesting writing finds its way in, it is either due to a sheer oversight or nostalgia.

well, going back to the subject, 6-7 years ago everyone was talking about the book– apparently aj sat on his ass, read the encyclopedia britannica in its entirety and wrote a book about it.   needless to say, i avoid books like that at all costs but had a run in with it recently.  i also sat on my ass and skimmed through it.  the book may be shit but aj is smart.  not by the mensa definition (and there is some stuff about mensa morons in it) but my definition.  he not only wrote a bestseller book but also made a career out of it.  he is the foremost leader of “stunt journalism”.  again, it is a shit genre but it makes money.

here is the recipe for such a book: find a topic.  any topic which will require research but no real intelligence or creativity.  for instance decide to write a book about oliver cromwell and how he would resonate today.  then start narrating your “research”.  when i say “start narrating your research” i don’t mean only your findings but your research process.  have a couple of personal story arcs embedded that the readers can sympathize with.  for instance aj used how he and his wife was trying to conceive offspring.  apply tons of self-deprecating humor, comparing yourself with cromwell and his cronies.   and, here is the most essential part, insert one edgy knock-knock joke to each paragraph.  this, again, is the most crucial ingredient for success.

almost all of aj’s jokes are edgy knock-knock jokes.  “edgy” as in they would be edgy for our social-nazi ms. susan behrens and her kind, making her chuckle controllably and exclaim “oh, aj, you’re impossible” with a slight blush.  trust me, you’ll win over 70% of the kindle, 45% of the ipad and 100% of the NPR demographic.

going back to the title of this entry and mensa, aj takes a few subtle shots at the mensa morons.  utilizing self-deprecation again, he summarizes how he became a card carrying mensa member based on his SAT scores alone (apparently that is enough), but then unleashes his knock-knock jokes  at a mensa convention.  that section pretty much sums mensa up.  morons filled to the brim with data.

i am dissing the book but i am not dissing aj.  for all its worth, he found a good market and a good product and attained success.  kudos.  reading the 32 volumes of the britannica was not smart, by any definition.  but writing a bestseller book about the experience, no matter how shitty i find the book, is smart.  making a career out of it and writing more and more shitty books is smarter.  as long as there is an audience for them.


adam gopnik had a decent book review in the new yorker about artificial intelligence and intelligence in general last week.  the gist of the review, published in the april 4, 2011 issue, and ain’t available in full unless you’re a subscriber, is simple: the machines are still eons away from catching up with us.  however, contrary to the popular opinion of the academicians, and in line with the opinion of anyone who writes or appreciates dystopian literature, he concludes that the silicone bastards may catch up before we even realize, and, perhaps, the only reason we’re ahead is because we constantly change our definitions of “intelligence” and “being smart”…  well, this is something i’ve been thinking about a lot since i learned how to tie my own shoes myself and figured i should take his analysis a few paragraphs further and vent my two cents worth…

mr. gopnik starts off with pointing out the obvious: “for centuries memory was intelligence”, which even though is as out-fashioned as doing the can-can for any reason other than irony, is still true for the idiots that make up mensa.  mensa, which, by the way, means “table” in latin, as in “we’re the knights of the intelligence round table, where all of us are equal in intelligence but we’re still engaged in an eternal pissing contest”, is an organization of idiots who believe IQ can be measured by how much trivial knowledge a particular jerk-off possesses and can display on cue.

that maxim, and all the underlying IQ tests supporting it, sounded like utter bullshit to me.  being able to store volumes of disassociated and trivial knowledge in your mind for no practical purpose is not intelligent at all.  it is of course good not to forget what you hear, see and read, and utilize it whenever needed, whether when in trouble or when in company, but it sure ain’t intelligence.  as a matter of fact, refraining from such stupid behavior may be a sign of true intelligence per se.    nevertheless, the morons of mensa preach otherwise– because they jammed more in their otherwise dull brains, they think they’re “intelligent”.  such folly.

i met quite a few mensa members in my time, either directly, in conversations and socially, or, thanks to their mensa bumper stickers, but i am yet to meet one “intelligent” mensa member: they’re all world class idiots…  in my experience with mensa members, the stereotype of the “comic book guy” holds true: unintelligent morons full of trivial information giving them a delusion of superiority.  none would survive if intelligence was a requisite for modern human survival.

now, to give them the benefit of the doubt, i am sure mensa started off as an organization of intelligent people but withered down to the morons full of trivia.  just like sca, which had some smart founders in berkeley way back in 1966, but now is a clearing house for comic book guys and their female counterparts, whatever the fuck they’re called…

well, that is the current state of “smartness” in the US of A.  we have mensa morons, who sincerely believe that cramming up knowledge into your cranium makes you smart, just like scientists believed in the 18th century, and we have this paranoia that the machines will get smarter than us and clean us out in a fairly near dystopian future.

i beg to differ in both counts: smartness, or being intelligent, has nothing to do with how much information you cram into your gray cells and the machines cannot be intelligent– unless we define “intelligence” as the mensa crew do.

intelligence is about how you use information, not how much information you retain, and how you react to information, events, emotions, etc.  it is how you tackle problems and solve them.  it is about creativity.  it is about thinking outside of the box.  show me how a machine can see the venetian light like monet did and create its impressions, i’ll concede.  show me how a machine can create “ok computer”, i’ll concede.  show me how a machine performs a long con, and i’ll concede.  show me how a machine comes up with the mastercard priceless campaign, and i’ll concede.

machines can break code faster than us and play chess better than us.  that is a no brainer.  you can program that that way.  but, like mr. gopnik states, machines can’t play poker better than us.  unless they’re playing other machines and you programmed how other machines “think” into each other.  then they can play.  the only way you can perhaps program a machine to play poker against humans better is by programming their tells, their styles, etc into the machine and then running a facial/ body recognition software so that they can track the tells and other signs.  even that, by itself, may not be enough.  but, even if you figure it out, go program the same data for 6 billion human beings.

and that is where the fallacy of artificial intelligence lies: all current artificial intelligence work relies on enormous data entry (the mensa model of intelligence) and stereotypes.  let me explain: to create “intelligent” machines, engineers and scientists cram all the data they can think into the machines.  then write code showing the machine how to index (or catalog), use and select the necessary data.  the more data you can enter and the more efficient your code is, the smarter your machine.

for choosing what data to enter and how to write the code that maps out how the machine will “think”, they rely on cognitive psychologists and linguists.  the holly trinity of modern artificial intelligence is computer science, cognitive psychology and linguistics.

the cognitive psychologists do their studies and come up with both quantitative and qualitative data about how people perceive, recognize, react, solve, feel, etc.  there we are venturing into stereotypes.  the cognitive psychologists and linguists do most of their studies on students or other closed groups.  what they come up with are nothing but generalizations, stereotypes.  what they’re programming into the computers is nothing but a coded version of the “reasonable person” standard discussed elsewhere in a different post.

programming the machines this way is called “learning” and in theory it is no different than human learning, where, as humans, we slowly accumulate lots of data, catalog and learn how to use it.  in theory it is similar but in practice it is eons apart.  this is because no human being is the same as another.  even though the methods utilized to teach us may be the same, we all learn differently.  and we all use our knowledge differently.

mr. gopnik eludes to the “turing test” as a qualifier of machine intelligence– turing test purports to hide a computer behing a curtain and have a real human being enter into a conversation with the computer without knowing it is a computer.  if the human being is fooled that he or she is talking to another human, then the machine is smart.

this, in my opinion, should not be very hard to achieve given the acceleration of technology we are enjoying.  with entering enough data and writing the correct code, it should be possible to con a human being into believing that he is conversing with another human.  albeit a very, very standard human.

as i discussed above, because of the uniqueness of human beings, the programmers and their linguist and psychologist pals will only be able to program one person at a time into the system.   and that person’s character traits will be dictated either by the data the psychologists and linguists have gathered (a stereotype), or programming the character traits of one (or more) individuals.

the human being behind the curtain will believe he is, let’s say, having a pleasant conversation with a middle aged midwestern woman but he will never believe he is shooting the shit around with his uncle hank.  now, you can program the computer to emulate uncle hank, but then the discussion will be limited by uncle hank’s mental facilities.  you can program many different people and personalities into the machine but how is the machine going to decide which personality to activate?  also, we human beings know how to take different tones with different people or in different occasions.   we all do it differently.  again, you can teach a machine how some people change tones but not all people.

at the end of the day, all you’ll program will be either stereotypes (like mr. gopnik’s well-intentioned but ill-conceived attempt to emulate how teenage girls speak) or will be very specific, based on individual’s character traits.  either is a losing proposition.

however, if you go with the former, you can create a wonderful cast for a soap-opera or a horrendous direct to video film with all kinds of stereotypes.  it wouldn’t be any different than a D-list actor playing a teenage girl (or uncle hank for that matter).

if there was a way to program all 6 billion residents of the planet earth into one single machine and make it pick the right person for the right occasion, then it would have been a little bit closer to success but that is a practical impossibility.

this is the goal of artificial intelligence but i don’t think what they will achieve, if they achieve it, will be intelligence.  not in the real sense.  in mensa sense, yeah, they should have it.  but not as humans are intelligent.

here is a way to achieve it: maybe someday technology will advance enough to create a chip that can transmit human brain activities in its entirety.  that way, by implementing chips on every new born, perhaps we can create a “shadow drive” or a “back-up” of our human brains.  as we learn, from infant to adult, everything we learn, feel, react to, etc is copied on a shadow drive.  by processing that information, perhaps the machines can finally “imitate” all human beings.  however, even if that nightmare happens, it will still be an “imitation”.

it will be an “imitation” because all that is achieved will be storing, indexing and applying data.  human intelligence is more than that.  as long as there is someone who is able to think outside of the box, as long as there is someone with some creativity left, as long as we have our instincts, we will still be smarter and more intelligent.  granted, the machines will know more than us, we will still be smarter.  unless we continue to underestimate what “intelligence” and “being smart” really means.

the only real threat of a dystopian future where the machines rule us is not coming from the machines– at least not directly.  the threat is us: by relying on the machines and overestimating them we are actually losing our smartness and intelligence.  perhaps the most cliche example would be simple calculations and our inability to perform them because of our reliance on calculators.  if we keep it this way, if we rely too much on the machines and what they offer us, then yes, the machines can overtake us.  not because they’re better but because we are worse.

it is easy to envision human devolution– if we’re using less of our brains or limbs or etc we may start losing them.  slowly but surely.  from a purely logical stand point, as quickly as we evolved and advanced, we can turn the clock and devolve.   science always said that because of our intelligence we do not need to rely on our physical powers that much and future humans will probably need less power and perhaps our bodies will evolve that way.

however, if we do not challenge our intelligence and our brains, if we rely more and more on machines, we can lose both our physical and mental powers.  now that would be a devolution in my book.  we may rely on the machines so much that we may even forget that it was us who designed and programmed them.  and then the machines will win.   otherwise, if we keep on thinking, creating, challenging our gray cells, using our instincts, staying aware of our emotions, we have nothing to fear mr. gopnik– the machines can only do a small percentage of what we can and cannot be human…

and, when i finally thought i heard ’em all, the times hit me with a “new term of art”, which translates to bullshit covered in pink margarine icing.  apparently a piece of fuselage was torn off from a southwestern airlines 737 in midflight today.  any frequent flyer knows southwest flies some of the shittiest planes on this side of the greenwich meridian approved by the FAA, so it is not surprising at all.  when you buy a plane which has already been bastardized by whoever flew it for a few decades nonstop, and then fly it from omaha to reno roundtrip non-stop for a few more decades, it starts falling apart.  but, apparently, southwest has a new term of art for “our plane is an old, old piece of shit that is being held together at the wings by some spit, a few mouthfuls of chewed off wrigley’s tutti frutti and tons of hail mary’s”: they call it “aircraft skin fatigue“!

“aircraft skin fatigue”?  really?  this is a good one…  the PR industry has finally written off the collective intelligence of the american people.  granted, we are having a reverse evolution and good ole americans are stupider than before but convincing them “aircraft skin fatigue” is different than “our planes are worthless pieces of shit”?  now that is bold..  thought calling “rebels” or “freedom fighters” “insurgents” was as far as they could’ve pushed the underestimation of the collective intelligence but this is a new low.  kudos southwest PR drones!

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