Tuesday 23 February, 2021

Spring cometh

Photographed on my cycle trip today.

Quote of the Day

”The opera is to music what a bawdy house is to a cathedral.”

  • H.L. Mencken, 1922

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Paddy Keenan and Padraic Conroy | Uileann pipes and guitar


Wonderful. Thanks to Ross Anderson, himself a piper, for the suggestion.

Long Read of the Day

Creativity and TikTok by Eugene Wei

I got this via Charles Arthur (Whom God Preserve) and found it fascinating, despite the fact that I don’t use TikTok. Eugene Wei has an interesting background. He’s part geek, part film-maker and has worked in a succession of interesting companies — from Amazon to Oculus via Hulu, Airtime and Clipboard. It’s a long, long read, but fascinating and full of insights. Including the observation that YouTube has never provided tools for its users so that they can creatively respond to what they’re viewing. In that sense, it’s actually a broadcast medium. TikTok, in contrast, is something else.

He also has some lovely footnotes, of which I am something of a connoisseur (though not on the Anthony Grafton scale). Here’s one:

I often lament when I refer to as fortune cookie Twitter, and to combat this, I think Twitter should set up a GPT-3 bot that constantly trains on each account, and the moment most of your followers can no longer distinguish between the GPT-3 spoof of your account and your actual account, you should be forced to vacate your account and allow the GPT-3 bot to replace you. You will have literally become a parody of yourself. Also, if for some reason I ever hacked my way into a famous person’s account, my goal would not to be to request BTC or post something offensive. Instead, my goal would be to post a tweet that so resembles their voice that no one, not even the person who owned that account, could tell. They’d just think, wow, that’s strange, I don’t remember posting that, but it is something I’d post, so ¯(ツ)

Facebook Announces Plan To Break Up U.S. Government Before It Becomes Too Powerful

Thank God for The Onion:

MENLO PARK, CA—In an effort to curtail the organization’s outsized influence, Facebook announced Monday that it would be implementing new steps to ensure the breakup of the U.S. government before it becomes too powerful. “It’s long past time for us to take concrete actions against this behemoth of governance that has gone essentially unchecked since its inception,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, noting that while the governing body may have begun with good intentions, its history showed a culture of recklessness and a dangerous disregard for the consequences of its decisions. “Unfortunately, those at the top have been repeatedly contemptuous of the very idea of accountability or reform, and our only remaining course is to separate the government into smaller chunks to prevent it from forming an even stronger monopoly over the public.”

The UK Competition and Markets Authority gets serious

From today’s FT:

The UK competition watchdog has told Big Tech companies it is planning a series of antitrust investigations into their practices over the next year, signalling a tougher approach to reining in the sector in the wake of Brexit.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the Competition and Markets Authority, said the watchdog plans to mount a number of probes into internet giants including Google and Amazon in the coming months.

The moves come as the watchdog looks to assert its newfound independence after Britain left the EU’s regulatory orbit in January. The CMA is due to be granted additional powers to police Big Tech later this year with the creation of a new sector-specific unit.

It’s a bit like London buses in the old days: You wait twenty years for one and then three come along all at once. Same with antitrust and competition probes into tech companies. I’ll believe it’s serious when a tech executive goes to jail.

Huawei turns to pig farming as smartphone sales fall

You probably think this is a spoof, but you’re wrong. It’s a solemn BBC report.

Technology is helping to modernise pig farms with AI being introduced to detect diseases and track pigs. Facial recognition technology can identify individual pigs, while other technology monitors their weight, diet and exercise. Huawei has already been developing facial recognition tech and faced criticism last month for a system that identifies people who appear to be of Uighur origin among images of pedestrians. Other Chinese tech giants, including JD.com and Alibaba, are already working with pig farmers in China to bring new technologies. ”The pig farming is yet another example of how we try to revitalise some traditional industries with ICT (Information and Communications Technology) technologies to create more value for the industries in the 5G era,” the Huawei spokesman added.

Hmmm… Come to think of it, I seem to remember that Quentin was doing some work once on facial recognition of sheep. It seems that some vets and farmers can tell by looking at their sheep whether they’re suffering from certain diseases and the research was to see if machine-learning could acquire the same skills.

The funny thing is that I can never tell one sheep from another. They don’t think much of me either. Once, many years ago, I was walking in a remote glen in Donegal when I came on a flock who all stood staring impassively at me. I took a photograph of them and later printed it with the caption: “Yeah, we all use Microsoft Excel“.

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