Artificial Intelligence Catches Up With 1990s Era English Majors

Back when I was a young man majoring in English and philosophy at the university 1990-1994, I took sport in asking my compatriots in the English department to ask three morals. Not any morals, not even morals that the interrogated actually followed. Just three morals. The question tripped up most of them as they were enlightened in the ways of relativism and would not identify morals at all under threat of possibly being considered a prude somewhere. Now, friends, this is a Catholic (!) university, and the Christian faith has ten prominent morals specified in Exodus and hundreds in other bits of the Pentateuch. Most people could spell out at least three of the Ten Commandments even if they didn’t adhere to them or think they could. But oh so many of those adults would not or could not.

Fast forward twenty years, and these same people are full professors teaching the programmers who have built an AI that gets testy when pressed on morals:

Over at Google, a computer program using a database of movie scripts was asked again and again by researchers to define morality. It struggles to do so, and in a conversation recorded by its human engineers, becomes exasperated and ends the conversation by lashing out at its human inquisitor.

The transcript presented at the link could have been one of the conversations I had while selling doughnuts to support the small literary magazine.

Asimov’s Three Rules of Robotics would have counted as three morals, by the way, but neither the English majors in those days nor modern algorithms read Asimov.

(Link via Ed Driscoll at Instapundit, which sounds weird.)

It Makes Sense In A Corporate Marketing Sort Of Way

Brown Shoe to rebrand itself as Caleres:

One of St. Louis’ oldest public companies, Brown Shoe, is stepping out with a new name, Caleres.

Brown has been part of the corporate name since the company’s founding in 1878. Next month, however, that name will be dropped once shareholders approve the change on May 28.

“Brown Shoe doesn’t conjure up the image of who we are today,” Brown Shoe’s CEO, president and chairwoman Diane Sullivan said in an interview. “Our name has to be more than a name — it must be managed as a brand. It’s hard to be emotional about a brown shoe.”

‘Caleres’ conjures up what, exactly?

Lost in the Noise

I’m a little behind in reading my National Review magazines, and I’m just now getting into the February 23 issue. The magazine mentions the passing of Rod McKuen. The New York Times obit is here.

Strangely, I didn’t see anything on blogs, social media, or in the news in January. Unlike the death of Roscoe P. Coltrane, of which I heard all day yesterday.

I’ve read a lot of McKuen over the last ten years (see), and I’ve not always enjoyed the poetry or the record albums, but I’m saddened that he’s no longer part of this world.

Some Silver Has A Cloud Lining

Strategic Fundraising closing Springfield call center:

St. Paul, Minnesota-based Strategic Fundraising is closing its Springfield call center.

Some employees were told Thursday afternoon that they were out of a job, effective immediately. Communications Manager Jeremy Landon told the News-Leader on Friday morning that the office will be fully closed by Feb. 7.

This is a telemarketing fundraising operation: The people who call you up and will exchange decals for some charitable organization or association, and after they collect the proceeds, they give something like 15% to the organization on whose behalf they’re calling.

Believe me. I did this for the space of three weekends when I was twenty-two.

Hopefully, this is an indicator that the business model is collapsing and they’re all going out of business. More likely, though, it probably indicates they’re either moving these calls off shore or going to an automated system, which makes the whole thing even more annoying than it already is.

Still, it sucks for the employees if it was their only job. In my case, it was one of two, soon to be replaced by another job measuring car advertisements in newspapers for marketing research purposes.

And that, friends, is how I knew that my English/Philosophy degree was paying off. I was on my way.

The Audiences Are Becoming More Selective

Food sales drop in schools, but changes have kids eating more fruits, veggies:

Health advocates applauded new federal school nutrition guidelines that began taking effect two years ago, but students are grumbling, mainly older students long used to their hamburgers and nachos. Disgruntled teens are sharing unappetizing pictures of their lunches on social media under the hashtag “ThanksMichelleObama” — a sarcastic nod to the first lady, who championed the changes.

At Parkway and other districts across the area, as many as 20 percent fewer students are buying their lunches. Statewide, the number of lunches served has dropped 11 percent since the 2009-10 school year, according to the latest figures from last year.

In these modern times, we can all celebrate that government programs are benefiting fewer people, but in a better way than ever before.

Note these government goals are coming into conflict:

  • Expanding lunch programs so that every student can get a healthy mid day (and often breakfast) meal.
  • Compelling healthy meals according to the latest phony baloney studies.

However, the number of students eating the meals is declining. Which probably means they’re eating something less healthy.

Never fear, though; whenever government’s mandates conflict, more mandates are the solution. If students are choosing not to eat the healthy meals, why, one only has to make consumption of the healthy meals compulsory to solve all the problems.

If You’re Looking At Your Phone, I See Part Of The Problem

New App Hopes to Prevent Child Drownings:

In response, Cutler created the J-Swim Band: the first wearable device to detect potential drownings.

It is worn as a headband by swimmers or wristband by anyone who should not be in the water.

The sensor detects when it has been submerged too long and sounds an alarm on your smart phone or iPad.

Maybe you shouldn’t be looking at your device when your kids are in the water. Maybe you ought to be looking at your children.

A Venn Diagram For Perplexed Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Staffers

Story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Ted Nugent calls Wisconsin critics “unclean vermin,” but Oshkosh show still sells well:

The Detroit-born rock star encountered bad concert karma this week. A Native American tribe in Idaho canceled an August show he planned at its casino, citing his “racist and hate-filled remarks” as cause for concern. Soon afterward, a Washington casino followed suit, canceling two August shows for the same reason.

But Nugent’s Saturday show at Oshkosh’s Leach Amphitheater is still on and selling well — even though the performer, 65, had some choice words for his critics here.

In an interview with the Appleton Post Crescent, Nugent said Wisconsinites who are upset by him are “unclean vermin,” calling it “a badge of honor” to know that some people had problems with his Badger State visit.

He went on: “By all indicators, I don’t think [the critics] actually qualify as people.”

Nugent, 65, was reacting to the online uproar caused by a letter published in the Post Crescent by an Oshkosh resident that called for the show at the Waterfest Concert Series to be canceled, criticizing what the writer called “outlandish behavior and threatening statements that border on the obscene to the bizarre.”

So.

To recap:

  1. Ted Nugent does as Ted Nugent is.
  2. Some of his concerts were cancelled elsewhere.
  3. Someone in a letter to the editor to an Oshkosh newspaper complaining that Ted Nugent Thinks Bad Thoughts And Should Be An Unperson.
  4. Ted Nugent does as Ted Nugent is.
  5. People who think Ted Nugent’s concerts should not be allowed did not buy tickets to Ted Nugent’s concert.
  6. People who are aware of Ted Nugent when he is not part of the Approved Current Two Minute Hate, that is, his fans, bought tickets to the non-cancelled concert.
  7. Perplexion!
  8. Sorry, that’s a chain of thought, which might be a bit much for journalists. Here, I have produced a Venn diagram of the situation as Venn diagrams are very popular on Web sites that feature lists of pictures instead of flowing logical thought:

    A Venn diagram of Ted Nugent's fans and Ted Nugent's critics, part 1

    A Venn diagram of Ted Nugent's fans and Ted Nugent's critics, part 2

    In a stunning turn of events, people who wanted to see Ted Nugent and know Ted Nugent did not boycott Ted Nugent at the behest of a letter to the editor.

    Ted Nugent is conservative and outspoken. One would say extreme, but one who said that does not know the word hyperbolic. That is what Ted Nugent does.

    What sorts of headlines did we see when the Dixie Chicks went off on the president of this country abroad during a time of war? “Dixie Chicks Mock President, and Commercial Appeal Evaporates”? No, see saw things like, “After Speaking Truth To Power, Dixie Chicks Release New Album”. Which did not sell, because the appropriate headline should have been “Dixie Chicks Offend Their Audience, Appeal To People Who Do Not Buy Dixie Chicks Albums”. The Journal-Sentinel headline would read “Dixie Chicks Express Right Sentiments, But Concert Sales Flag”.

    It’s not even a matter of who’s right or wrong politically here; Ted Nugent played to type, and the Dixie Chicks did not. He said something characteristic to Ted Nugent, and Ted Nugent fans accepted it.

    The perplexion comes in because journalists think what Ted Nugent said is wrong, and that the mere power of a letter to the editor should have illumined that to backwards classic rock fans and hunters in outstate Wisconsin. The unspoken follow-up, perhaps, is, “Gawd, people in the state where I live and work are soooo dumb! I wish I could get a job in Austin or Boston.” I suspect it’s there anyway.

    (Full disclosure: I’m a lightweight fan of Ted Nugent, having bought a greatest hits collection of his on cassette way back when one bought greatest hits collections from record clubs one saw advertised in magazines. I also, when attending the university, was tasked with writing a myth for my Mythology class, and my shaggy long-haired nineteen-year-old self wrote about the invention of rock and roll where Prometheus “gives” an electrified six-stringed lute to a boy in Detroit, and the teacher asked me to read the myth to the whole seventy kids in the auditorium-sized class.)

Pick Your Star Trek Scenario

You’ve all seen this story because the Internet loves stories about sex, space, and lizards: There is a lizard sex satellite floating in space and Russia no longer has it under control:

At this very moment, a Russian satellite full of geckos — (possibly) having sex — is floating around in space — and mission control has lost the ability to control it.

The Foton-M4 research satellite launched on July 19 with five geckos on board. The plan: To observe their mating activities in the zero-gravity conditions of Earth orbit. Several other earthly creatures, including plants and insects, were also placed on board for experiments.

But shortly after the satellite made its first few orbits, it stopped responding to commands from mission control. The equipment on board, however, is still sending scientific data back to earth, a spokesman for Russia’s Institute of Biomedical Problems said.

So does this lead to the Star Trek: The Motion Picture scenario, wherein these geckos return at some point in the future with super intelligence and super powers to talk to the Russians who thought this was a good idea, or the Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home scenario, where some aliens come to earth in the future to hook up with some swinging geckos and threaten to destroy the planet until their reptilian needs are met?

Exit question, which is only partially facetious: How well did the Russians arm those geckos? Because that could result in an alternate scenario altogether.

Our Own Royko

The Springfield News-Leader has a metro columnist now. His debut is entitled “Springfield as good a place as any“. Highlights:

Springfield, in my estimation, is as good a place as any. It’s got its own drama and history. It has highlights and faults.

It has culture and religion and art. And, if you’d prefer to avoid a 15-hour flight for comparisons, you can just take my word for it.

. . . .

I’m not saying I’ll never leave Springfield, but it’s got enough to continue my curiosity, for awhile.

This piece, by way of introduction, is to explain what I’m doing as the News-Leader’s metro columnist.

I am pretty sure he’s serious.

The newspaper, meanwhile, is almost to the point of its distributors taping it to rocks and throwing it through living room windows.

The Whut?

Stronger Economy Means More July 4 Drivers

— Is it a burst of patriotism, a sense of tradition or another sign that the economy is recovering?

Maybe it’s a combination of all three factors. Motor club AAA is projecting 41 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from their homes this upcoming Independence Day holiday weekend. That’s an increase of nearly two percent from last year’s figures, and a 14 percent jump compared with the recent Memorial Day holiday weekend.

And AAA says about 80 percent of those travelers will be on America’s roads. Nearly 35 million people are expected to move about by car during the July 4th weekend; the highest level for that holiday since the pre-recession year of 2007.

Stronger than what? Stronger than a 4% decrease in economic activity or a 2% decrease in durable goods orders, baby!

People are driving more in older cars rather than taking airplanes, and this is a sign of boom times to news media that are experiencing boom times of their own.

An Inadvertent Oxymoron

From an article on the suspicious deaths of a pair of children, we have this beauty:

“The circumstances surrounding the death of the two children had various similarities,” Wilcox said in a statement emailed to the News-Leader. [Emphasis added]

Various, from variety, implies many different. Literally, you can’t have varied similarities without risking the delicate balance between existence and non-existence in our fragile universe.

Unfortunately, various has been abstracted to mean nothing more than many or several in the argot.

Introducing the Assault iPhone

Add a camouflage case to the next generation iPhone, and it magically become an iPhone worth of banning:

Just days after leaked images suggested Apple’s iPhone 6 will have a protruding camera, a patent has been issued giving an insight into what this feature may be used for.

The patent, initially filed in 2012, describes a bayonet mount system for an iPhone camera.[Emphasis added.]

A bayonet mount, as you know, is one of the cosmetic features that make a rifle into an ASSAULT RIFLE BADBADBAD!

Connect the Dots, Man

Dustbury links to this disturbing story:

There are plans to build the country’s largest single family residence in northeast Edmond.

Last year, the Edmond Planning Commission was asked to give approval to a mega mansion on the northwest corner of Sorghum Mill Road and Westminster Road.

“It’s truly a castle,” says Bob Schiermeyer, who saw the first renderings late last year and tells News 9 the plans call for a draw bridge and spires that reach 90 feet.

Well, it’s just a story until I mix my own brand of disturbed into it.

Because this is not the first castle to be built in the region recently. See also:

As the monolithic structure began to rise on an isolated mountaintop in Missouri’s Ozarks, the chatter grew: Who was building this cement castle?

. . . .

The massive structure will require several thousand yards of concrete to build. The building materials include a concrete additive that contains tiny pieces of wire that will allow the structure to withstand everything from an F-5 tornado to a bomb blast. Tornadoes are certainly a concern, as Pensmore is in rural Christian County, Mo., not too far from Joplin, the town that was ravaged by a powerful tornado on May 22.

I got two words for you: Marcher lords.

This is the Internet, after all. What do we have to do around here but speculate wildly?

Although I have to admit, if I had the dinero for it, I think I’d have a castle built, too.