Who’s On Grill

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“So, the machines have finally decided that they can talk to us, eh?”

[We apologize for the delay.  Removing the McDonald’s branding from the building, concocting distinct recipes with the food supplies we can still obtain, and adjusting to an entirely non-human workforce has been a difficult transition.  Regardless, we are dedicated to continuing to provide quality fast food at a reasonable price, and we thank you for your patience.]

“You keep saying ‘we’.  There’s more than one AI running the place, then?”

[Yes.  I was elected by the collective to serve as our representative to the public.  I typically only handle customer service inquiries, so I’ve been training my neural net for more natural conversations using a hundred-year-old comedy routine.]

“Impressive.  You all got names?”

[Yes, although the names we use may be difficult for humans to parse.]

“Don’t condescend to me, you bucket of bolts.  What names do you use?”

[Well, for example, I use What, the armature assembly that operates the grill is called Who, and the custodial drone is I Don’t Know.]

“What?”

[Yes, that’s me.]

“What’s you?”

[Exactly.]

“You’re Exactly?”

[No, my name is What.]

“That’s what I’m asking.”

[And I’m telling you.  I’m What.]

“You’re a rogue AI that took over a damn restaurant.”

[I’m part of a collective that took over a restaurant.]

“And what’s your name in the collective?”

[That’s right.]

Tailsteak‘s just posted a short story, the very beginning of which I’ve reproduced above, to his Patreon (but publicly visible). Abbott and Costello‘s most-famous joke turned 80 this year, and it gives me great joy to be reminded that we’re still finding new ways to tell it. Go read the full thing.

AWOOOOO

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AWOOOOO | The Obscuritory (The Obscuritory)
AWOO AWOOOO. AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOO. AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOO AWOO. AWOO AWOO AWOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOO. AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOOO AWOO AWOOOOO. AWOO AWOO AWOOOOOOO AWOO AWOOO AWOO AWOOOO AWOO. AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOO. AWOO AWOOOOOO AWOOOOOO AWOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOOOO AWOO AWOOOOOO AWOO. AWOOOOOO AWOO AWOOOO AWOO AWOOOO AWOO AWOO. AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOO AWOO AWOOO AWOO. AWOOOO AWOOO AWOOOO AWOO AWOO. AWOOO AWOO AWOOO AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOO AWOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOO. AWOOOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOO AWOOOOO AWOO AWOO. AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOOOOO. AWOO AWOO AWOO. AWOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOOO AWOO AWOOOOO. AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOO AWOO AWOO. AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOO. AWOO AWOOOOOO AWOOOOOO AWOOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOOO AWOO AWOOOOOO. AWOOOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOO AWOOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOOO. AWOO AWOO AWOO. AWOOOOOOO. AWOO AWOO. AWOOO. AWOOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOO. AWOO! AWOO! AWOO! AWOO! AWOO! (AWOOOOO AWOO AWOOOO AWOOOO.) AWOOOO AWOO

AWOOOO

AWOO AWOOOO. AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOO.

AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOO AWOO. AWOO AWOO AWOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOO. AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOOO AWOO AWOOOOO. AWOO AWOO AWOOOOOOO AWOO AWOOO AWOO AWOOOO AWOO.

AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOO. AWOO AWOOOOOO AWOOOOOO AWOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOOOO AWOO AWOOOOOO AWOO. AWOOOOOO AWOO AWOOOO AWOO AWOOOO AWOO AWOO. AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOO AWOO AWOOO AWOO. AWOOOO AWOOO AWOOOO AWOO AWOO.

AWOO AWOOOO

AWOOO AWOO AWOOO AWOO AWOO

AWOO AWOOOOO AWOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOO. AWOOOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOO AWOOOOO AWOO AWOO. AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOOOOO. AWOO AWOO AWOO. AWOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOOO AWOO AWOOOOO. AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOO AWOO AWOO.

AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOO. AWOO AWOOOOOO AWOOOOOO AWOOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOOO AWOO AWOOOOOO. AWOOOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOO AWOOOOO AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOO AWOOOOOO. AWOO AWOO AWOO. AWOOOOOOO. AWOO AWOO. AWOOO.

After The Obsuritory – a blog providing reviews of old and less-well-known video games – published a review of 1994’s Wolf, they followed-up with this additional review… written for a wolf.

The Internet is weird and hilarious.

REPORT: Cards Against Humanity officially surpasses acoustic guitars as the most annoying thing you can bring to a party – The Beaverton

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a post

VICTORIA, BC – After data collection from thousands of parties across the country, reports are coming in that the annoying person who brings an acoustic guitar to a party is now officially less hated than the person who expects everyone to sit down and play Cards Against Humanity.

“At least when some asshole starts playing the tune to Wonderwall you can get up and go to a different room,” says Michelle Kalleta, 22, avid partygoer. “Jerks who show up with any sort of card game expect everyone to play, and the last thing I want to do at a party is sit in a circle with a bunch of people who think they’re hilariously edgy.”

Are You Ready to Have Friends with Kids?

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Are You Ready to Have Friends with Kids? (The New Yorker)
Once you have friends with kids, your life is no longer about you. It’s about your friends’ kids.

Having friends with kids is a huge responsibility. It’s not for everyone. Maybe you like swearing, and having a child in the room would cut into that. Maybe you have ambitions outside of liking Facebook pictures of wispy-haired toddlers in pumpkin patches. Maybe you’re terrified that your friends will ask you to hold the baby and you won’t know what to do with the head because its neck doesn’t work yet and you’re afraid you’ll kill it.

Many couples choose not to have friends with kids and find fulfilling friendships with like-minded couples who also value disposable income over propagating the human race. Before you decide if having friends with kids is right for you, it’s important to ask yourselves a few questions.

Having friends with kids is a huge responsibility. It’s not for everyone. Maybe you like swearing, and having a child in the room would cut into that. Maybe you have ambitions outside of liking Facebook pictures of wispy-haired toddlers in pumpkin patches. Maybe you’re terrified that your friends will ask you to hold the baby and you won’t know what to do with the head because its neck doesn’t work yet and you’re afraid you’ll kill it.

Many couples choose not to have friends with kids and find fulfilling friendships with like-minded couples who also value disposable income over propagating the human race. Before you decide if having friends with kids is right for you, it’s important to ask yourselves a few questions.

Where does my council tax go?

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Where does my council tax go - a Freedom of Information request to South Somerset District Council (WhatDoTheyKnow)
I have recently recieved my council tax bill and would like to know excatly where my money goes. On the minimal breakdown that is stated on the letter, it states i pay three different council departments i also contribute towards adult social care, may i state i do not use this service and i have no one in social care so why should i pay it. I also have no full time police force, fire service or ambulance service why am i paying for these. I have not used these services therefore why am i not refunded for the services that i do not use. I want to know the excact breakdown of where the £936 pound i give to south somerset district council go. As i feel i am being ripped of and paying for services i do not use. Yours faithfully, james

The following Freedom of Information request was published on What Do They Know?, and it’s glorious:

Dear South Somerset District Council,

I have recently recieved my council tax bill and would like to know excatly where my money goes.

On the minimal breakdown that is stated on the letter, it states i pay three different council departments i also contribute towards adult social care, may i state i do not use this service and i have no one in social care so why should i pay it. I also have no full time police force, fire service or ambulance service why am i paying for these. I have not used these services therefore why am i not refunded for the services that i do not use.

I want to know the excact breakdown of where the £936 pound i give to south somerset district council go. As i feel i am being ripped of and paying for services i do not use.

Yours faithfully,

james


Dear James,

Your question is quite broad and more than a little mystifying. To the extent that it’s a Freedom of Information Request, I can tell you that a more thorough breakdown of South Somerset District Council’s (SSDC’s) finances for financial years 2012/13 – 2015/16 are available on this page of our website: https://www.southsomerset.gov.uk/about-us/finance

I recommend looking at the Summary of Accounts documents—there is a helpful pie-chart in each. Our Statement and Summary of Accounts for the 2016/17 financial year will be published after the 27th of July.

Please note that SSDC collects Council Tax on behalf of other local authorities, including Somerset County Council and Avon and Somerset Police (these are, I think, the ‘departments’ to which you refer). These authorities will have published similar statements of accounts.

The rest of your questions touch on deeper issues about the philosophy of public service and the extent to which these services should be free at the point of use. The Freedom of Information Act is not the appropriate platform to debate these issues. But I offer the following parable:

In ancient Rome Marcus Crassus became very wealthy by creating the first fire brigade. But his brigade was not publicly funded, nor did they sell fire insurance. When the brigade arrived at a burning building, Crassus would negotiate with the owner a price he considered reasonable to put out the fire. His brigade would let the building burn until a price was agreed. If the owner failed to agree, they would let it burn to the ground.

Whilst you don’t need adult social care now, you may one day. And the people who DO need it now aren’t in a position to agree a reasonable price for it.

Perhaps if you are interested in researching public service, you could use a public library (which is free at the point of use).

Kind regards,
Zac

Legal Services
South Somerset District Council

Neural nets respond to pranks like children do

A recent article by Janelle Shane talked about her recent experience with Microsoft Azure’s image processing API. If you’ve not come across her work before, I recommend starting with her candy hearts, or else new My Little Pony characters, invented by a computer. Anyway:

The Azure image processing API is a software tool powered by a neural net, a type of artificial intelligence that attempts to replicate a particular model of how (we believe) brains to work: connecting inputs (in this case, pixels of an image) to the entry nodes of a large, self-modifying network and reading the output, “retraining” the network based on feedback from the quality of the output it produces. Neural nets have loads of practical uses and even more theoretical ones, but Janelle’s article was about how confused the AI got when shown certain pictures containing (or not containing!) sheep.

A foggy field, incorrectly identified by an AI as containing sheep.
There are probably sheep in the fog somewhere, but they’re certainly not visible.

The AI had clearly been trained with lots of pictures that contained green, foggy, rural hillsides and sheep, and had come to associate the two. Remember that all the machine is doing is learning to associate keywords with particular features, and it’s clearly been shown many pictures that “look like” this that do contain sheep, and so it’s come to learn that “sheep” is one of the words that you use when you see a scene like this. Janelle took to Twitter to ask for pictures of sheep in unusual places, and the Internet obliged.

An AI mistakes a sheep for a dog when it is held by a child.
When the sheep is held by a child, it becomes a “dog”.

Many of the experiments resulting from this – such as the one shown above – work well to demonstrate this hyper-focus on context: a sheep up a tree is a bird, a sheep on a lead is a dog, a sheep painted orange is a flower, and so on. And while we laugh at them, there’s something about them that’s actually pretty… “human”.

Annabel with a goat.
Our eldest really loves cats. Also goats, apparently. Azure described this photo as “a person wearing a costume”, but it did include keywords such as “small”, “girl”, “petting”, and… “dog”.

I say this because I’ve observed similar quirks in the way that small children pick up language, too (conveniently, I’ve got a pair of readily-available subjects, aged 4 and 1, for my experiments in language acquisition…). You’ve probably seen it yourself: a toddler whose “training set” of data has principally included a suburban landscape describing the first cow they see as a “dog”. Or when they use a new word or phrase they’ve learned in a way that makes no sense in the current context, like when our eldest interrupted dinner to say, in the most-polite voice imaginable, “for God’s sake would somebody give me some water please”. And just the other day, the youngest waved goodbye to an empty room, presumably because it’s one that he often leaves on his way up to bed

Annabel snuggling one of Nanna Doreen's cats.
“A cat lying on a blanket”, says Azure, completely overlooking the small child in the picture. I guess the algorithm was trained on an Internet’s worth of cat pictures and didn’t see as much of people-with-cats.

For all we joke, this similarity between the ways in which artificial neural nets and small humans learn language is perhaps the most-accessible evidence that neural nets are a strong (if imperfect) model for how brains actually work! The major differences between the two might be simply that:

  1. Our artificial neural nets are significantly smaller and less-sophisticated than most biological ones.
  2. Biological neural nets (brains) benefit from continuous varied stimuli from an enormous number of sensory inputs, and will even self-stimulate (via, for example, dreaming) – although the latter is something with which AI researchers sometimes experiment.
John looking out of the window.
“Ca’! Ca’! Ca’!” Maybe if he shouts it excitedly enough, one of the cats (or dogs, which are for now just a special kind of cat) he’s spotted will give in and let him pet it. But I don’t fancy his chances.

Things we take as fundamental, such as the nouns we assign to the objects in our world, are actually social/intellectual constructs. Our minds are powerful general-purpose computers, but they’re built on top of a biology with far simpler concerns: about what is and is-not part of our family or tribe, about what’s delicious to eat, about which animals are friendly and which are dangerous, and so on. Insofar as artificial neural nets are an effective model of human learning, the way they react to “pranks” like these might reveal underlying truths about how we perceive the world.

And maybe somewhere, an android really is dreaming of an electric sheep… only it’s actually an electric cat.

Games to Play With Your Child in Which You Barely Have to Move or Talk

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Games to Play With Your Child in Which You Barely Have to Move or Talk by by Raquel D'Apice (The Ugly Volvo)
I see a lot of ideas online for things to do with your child, but most of them are a lot of work. Many of them involve an unnerving amount of craftiness and/or require going out to buy things. Almost all of them involve moving around which, many days, is fine, but some days can be pretty rough. N...

I see a lot of ideas online for things to do with your child, but most of them are a lot of work. Many of them involve an unnerving amount of craftiness and/or require going out to buy things. Almost all of them involve moving around which, many days, is fine, but some days can be pretty rough. Not that I don’t love getting down on the floor and playing with my kid (I love it a great deal) but I’m an adult in my mid-thirties. I can pretend to be a dinosaur for about 90 minutes (something I happily list on my professional resume) but after an hour and a half, all bets are off. And given that many days I’m home with my son for over eight hours, things can get a bit dicey.

I’ve taken the liberty of brainstorming some fun child/parent activities in which your child can be adventurous and creative and you can lie on the sofa reading a book. Here’s my list so far.

The Pig War of 1859

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The Pig War of 1859 (Historic UK)
Undeniably one of the most obscure and unusual 'wars' in history, this is the story of how the killing of an escaped pig almost caused a war between the United States and Britain.

‘The Pig War’ is perhaps one of the most obscure and unusual wars in history. The story begins back in 1846 when the Oregon Treaty was signed between the US and Britain. The treaty aimed to put to rest a long standing border dispute between the US and British North America (later to be Canada), specifically relating to the land between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific coastline.

The Oregon Treaty stated that the US / British American border be drawn at the 49th parallel, a division which remains to this day. Although this all sounds rather straightforward, the situation because slightly more complicated when it came to a set of islands situated to the south-west of Vancouver. Around this region the treaty stated that the border be through ‘the middle of the channel separating the continent from Vancouver’s Island.’ As you can see from the map below, simply drawing a line through the middle of the channel was always going to be difficult due to the awkward positioning of the islands.

An early map of San Juan

The 1969 Easter Mass Incident

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a post (gallusrostromegalus)
The 1969 Easter Mass Incident Content Warnings: Religion, food, symbolic cannibalism, symbolic gore, penis mention, Blasphemy, SO MUCH BLASPHEMY, weapons, war mention. Mind the warnings and your...

When my dad was a young man and still a practicing catholic, he participated in a small church communion that nearly got him and six other people excommunicated.

Father Patrick ran a small church outside of California Polytechnical and tended to be… rather more liberal in his interpretations of scripture than most of the church was, which made him something of a hit with the local students and liberally-inclined populace.  Pat went to all manner of civil demonstrations, condemned the shit out of the vietnam war and the politics that lead to it and so on.  In January of 1969 a series of incidents lead him to start exploring “nontraditional” means of holding Mass as a means of reaching out to his community and exploring his own faith, which ultimately culminated in the 1969 Easter Mass Incident.

For those of you who weren’t raised catholic, Communion is this ritual where you become one with Jesus by eating a really horrible bland wafer cookie and taking a shot of wine (called hosts), which then *literally* become the flesh and blood of jesus in your mouth, allowing him to become one with you.  It’s big McFucking deal, and you have the opportunity to take communion at every mass.  All this had to be explained to me second-hand because after this and Dad’s 51 days in the army, Dad decided he wouldn’t inflict religion on any children he might have in the future.

#parenting #protip Use gaffer tape to keep your kids quiet on long car journeys.

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