'Everything is Alive' podcast interviews a bar of soap and other inanimate objects

I've only scratched the surface of former NPR producer Ian Chillag's podcast Everything is Alive but I'm already tickled by it. The premise: serious interviews with inanimate objects.

So far, Louis (a can of cola), Maeve (a lamppost), Dennis (a pillow), Tar (a bar of soap), Ana (an elevator), and Paul (a tooth), have had their time in the limelight. Listen in here.

(Waxy)

Bing search results are a sewer of far-right memes and similar garbage

Someone checked in on Bing search and the results aren't pretty. At some point it became a sewer of racism, antisemitism, pedophilia and conspiracy theories—and that's just the recommendations.

The BBC reports:

In his investigation, Mr Hoffman looked up racially-themed terms and found that the majority of suggestions for further searches that accompanied results pointed people to racist sites or images.

Racist memes and images were also returned for many of the words he tried.

"We all know this garbage exists on the web, but Bing shouldn't be leading people to it with their search suggestions," wrote Mr Hoffman.

It is believed that the suggestions for further searches connected to these terms have emerged from a combination of user activity and concerted action by far-right groups to skew responses.

Everyone's mad at Microsoft for not giving a shit (and it has promised to start giving a shit), but it is instructive to see such a huge-scale mirror image of what the algorithms think we want to see--and what we are are searching for.

More fun Chris Hoffman found on Bing:

Enjoy this strange new audiovisual illusion from Caltech scientists

Caltech researchers developed the illusion above to illustrate postdiction, a sensory phenomenon "in which a stimulus that occurs later can retroactively affect our perceptions of an earlier event." From Caltech Matters:

"Illusions are a really interesting window into the brain," says first author Noelle Stiles (PhD '15), a visitor in biology and biological engineering and a postdoctoral scholar–research associate at USC. "By investigating illusions, we can study the brain's decision-making process. For example, how does the brain determine reality with information from multiple senses that is at times noisy and conflicting? The brain uses assumptions about the environment to solve this problem. When these assumptions happen to be wrong, illusions can occur as the brain tries to make the best sense of a confusing situation. We can use these illusions to unveil the underlying inferences that the brain makes...."

Postdictive processing has been demonstrated within individual senses, but this work focuses on how the phenomenon can bridge multiple senses. The key to both of the new illusions is that the audio and visual stimuli occur rapidly, in under 200 milliseconds (one-fifth of a second). The brain, trying to make sense of this barrage of information, synthesizes the stimuli from both senses to determine the experience, using postdiction to do so.

Read more in the researchers' scientific paper: "What you saw is what you will hear: Two new illusions with audiovisual postdictive effects" (PLoS ONE)

Incredible video of Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot doing parkour

Boston Dynamics has just released this astounding video of their Atlas humanoid robot doing parkour:

The control software uses the whole body including legs, arms and torso, to marshal the energy and strength for jumping over the log and leaping up the steps without breaking its pace. (Step height 40 cm.) Atlas uses computer vision to locate itself with respect to visible markers on the approach to hit the terrain accurately.

Unfortunately the engineers failed to outfit Atlas with a speech synthesizer to yell "Parkour! Parkour! Parkour!" like so.

Meet Helen, 5, detained by Trump, forced to sign away her rights in court.

“On Helen’s form, which was filled out with assistance from officials, there is a checked box next to a line that says, “I withdraw my previous request for a Flores bond hearing.” Beneath that line, the five-year-old signed her name in wobbly letters.”

What the Trump administration is doing to these thousands of children is morally repulsive. We have to stop it. (more…)

L.A. morning show host surprised that a K-pop star from Vancouver speaks English

After K-pop group NCT 127 from Vancouver, Canada performed on KTTV-Fox 11's Good Day L.A., host Araksya Karapetyan gave one of the singers an odd compliment: "Very cool, your English is awesome. I love it."

Here's the clip:

M. Night Shyamalan's Glass is looking pretty good in this new trailer

It's taken M. Night Shyamalan close to two decades and three films to fully realize his vision of a world full of super-powered heroes and villains, but here we are! Eighteen years after Unbreakable popped and close to two after Split was released, Glass is here. Well, almost. It'll be hitting theaters on January 19th.

I know that M. Night Shyamalan's plopped out a few turds over the years, but I have faith in his vision as a filmmaker and as a writer. Fingers crossed that Glass is just as good as it looks.

Video: Fifty years ago today was the first Apollo mission to carry a crew to space

On October 11, 1968, NASA launched the first Apollo crew into space. This mission, Apollo 7, opened the spaceways for the moon landing the following July. Apollo 7 had the following objectives: Demonstrate Command and Service Module (CSM) with crew performance; demonstrate mission support facilities' performance during a crewed mission and demonstrate Apollo rendezvous capability; demonstrate live TV broadcasts from space.

From NASA:

The Apollo 7 crew was commanded by Walter Schirra, with Command Module Pilot Donn Eisele, and Lunar Module Pilot Walter Cunningham. The mission consisted of an 11-day Earth-orbital test flight to test the Apollo command and service module. It was also the first time a crew flew on the Saturn IB rocket.

Although Apollo 7 was a complete technical success, it was born out of a tragedy. After the fatal fire that took the lives of the Apollo 1 crew—Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White—the Apollo 7 crew took over the mission.

Apollo 1 was supposed to be the first crewed Apollo mission. During a launch rehearsal test at Cape Kennedy, an electrical fire broke out in the cabin. Because the cabin atmosphere was pure oxygen, the fire spread incredibly quickly. The fire also created intense pressure inside the cabin, and because the hatch could only swing inward, the crew was stuck inside.

All further crewed missions had to wait until NASA could determine the sources of the mishap—technical and organizational—and ensure that nothing like it would happen again. In the 21 months between Apollo 1 and Apollo 7, the Apollo spacecraft and spacesuits were redesigned to more safely fly crews to space.

Footage shows white man shooting at black boy who asked for directions

Brennan Walker, a 14-year-old black boy, missed his school bus and tried to walk to school. Getting lost, he knocked on Jeffrey Ziegler's door to ask for directions. Ziegler, a 53-year-old white man, walked shirtless onto his porch armed with a shotgun and fired it at Walker. Though claiming the gun went off accidentally when he tripped, his own porch camera shows him calmly taking aim at the boy, who escaped unharmed. The video was released today in Ziegler's attempted murder trial.

Also taking the stand Tuesday was Detective Shawn Pace, who said during his investigation, his assessment of what had allegedly happened at the Zeigler house — a home invasion attempt — changed as he watched the surveillance video.

Ziegler is why black boys run. Pace is why black men kneel.

As election looms, Mormon church tells women to leave social media for 10 days

In a year of unprecedented involvement by women in politics, as candidates, as votes and as subjects of political debate and rancor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has an interesting proposal: women should quit social media for 10 days, right before the election.

With a major election less than a month away, Nelson’s timing was particularly unfortunate for women involved in politics. Parker is a member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government, a left-leaning group founded in the wake of the 2016 election to encourage LDS women to become politically involved. She is helping to organize a nonpartisan “voter prep party” in her neighborhood where women will gather to review the issues, with the goal of boosting turnout in the midterms. Her group had planned to distribute sample ballots and other mateials online before the party, but now they are handing out invitations and information by hand and hoping for the best.

Tax them.

Fyre Festival fraudster sentenced to six years in federal prison

Billy McFarland, the 26 year old con-artist who organized a disastrous Bahamas music festival in 2017 was sentenced to six years in federal prison on multiple counts of fraud. Ticket buyers who paid $12,000 had been promised a "first class" experience on a private island with yacht rides, gourmet meals, supermodels, and luxury villas but instead received school bus shuttles, cheese slices on bread, feral dogs, disaster relief tents and no musical performances.

From the New York Times:

Prosecutors said that the music festival, which was to have taken place in 2017, was the product of an elaborate scheme. The festival’s website identified its location as Fyre Cay, a fictional place that was described as a private island that had once belonged to the drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Actually, Mr. McFarland secured some land on Great Exuma just weeks before the festival and hired workers who scrambled to prepare for the event. But as ticket holders arrived, Mr. McFarland’s plans unraveled and the festival was canceled. His celebrity business partner in Fyre Media, the rapper Ja Rule, posted on social media that he was “heartbroken” about the chaos.

From late 2017 until early 2018, Mr. McFarland ran a company called NYC VIP Access that sold bogus tickets to events like the Met Gala, Coachella, Burning Man and the Super Bowl. In one case, prosecutors said, two customers flew from Florida to New York for the Grammy Awards, only to be turned away at the door.

In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors called Mr. McFarland “the consummate con artist,” adding: “He betrayed and deceived his investors, customers, and employees while he was living the high life at his luxury apartment, traveling to exclusive locales, staying at luxury hotels, being chauffeured in his Maserati, and entertaining himself and his friends at restaurants, bars, and casinos.”

They also accused Mr. McFarland of lacking remorse, citing a line from a report by a forensic psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Levin, who evaluated the defendant. Regarding the VIP Access operations, Dr. Levin wrote: “He did not feel that what he did was wrong.”

The promise:

The reality:

By Ian Moran (I to Z Photo + Video) - From the photographer, Ian Moran, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Report: U.S. military weapon systems and computers are ridiculously easy to hack

Well this is fun: The United States Government Accountability Office released a report today that explains, in no uncertain terms, that the majority of the nation's new-fangled, high-tech weapons systems are hilariously vulnerable to cyber attacks.

From the Washington Post:

The report by the Government Accountability Office concluded that many of the weapons, or the systems that control them, could be neutralized within hours. In many cases, the military teams developing or testing the systems were oblivious to the hacking.

A public version of the study, published on Tuesday, deleted all names and descriptions of which systems were attacked so the report could be published without tipping off American adversaries about the vulnerabilities. Congress is receiving the classified version of the report, which specifies which among the $1.6 trillion in weapons systems that the Pentagon is acquiring from defense contractors were affected.

The Government Accountability Office used a team of hackers to see what sort of shenanigans could be caused with a little bit of access and a whole lot of digital kung-fu. The results aren't a good look for America's military. In one instance, the red team that the GOA used was pitted against Pentagon personnel tasked with holding the line against cyberintrusions. The security checks that the Pentagon were easily bypassed, thanks to the use of easy-to-crack passwords and "insiders" who were familiar with the program acting as meatspace backdoors to what would normally be secure systems. It gets worse: hackers working for the GAO reported being able to watch, in real time, a system operator's every move. Everything they did on screen was observable from a remote location and, if the hackers had wanted to, they could have taken the system over. The Washington Post reports:

One team reported that they caused a pop-up message to appear on users’ terminals instructing them to insert two quarters to continue operating.

So yeah: the most powerful military force in the world is, despite recent efforts to tie off existing vulnerabilities, ill-equipped to detect or fend off against cyber attacks that could cripple many of the technological advantages that the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines use to maintain an edge over enemy combatants.

Super.

Image via United States Air Force Academy

Rocket failure forces emergency landing by joint American-Russian crew

NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin were forced to make an emergency landing in Kazakhstan this morning during their attempted trip to the International Space Station. The duo were on board a Russian-built Soyuz rocket, launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan when, according to early reports from NASA, the rocket's booster failed minutes after liftoff.

NASA reported in a tweet that the “...Soyuz capsule is returning to Earth via a ballistic descent, which is a sharper angle of landing compared to normal.” A search and rescue team was deployed to pick up the astronaut and cosmonaut from the capsule's landing site, approximately 12 miles east of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, will be conducting a formal investigation into what went wrong with their rocket.

Scary shit.

Police interrogate man for being black, lock down campus building

Reginald Andrade is the consumer manager of disability services at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. On September 14 he was walking across campus to work. This scared a bystander who called the police. Andrade says the police were waiting for him by the time he arrived at work.

From the ACLU:

But on September 14, campus police were waiting for me when I arrived at the reception desk at Whitmore. I had no idea why, but I knew it couldn’t be good. My heart started pounding.

Two university detectives sat me down me in an office and closed the door. Bewildered, I asked what was happening. They refused to answer as they peppered me with questions.

“What time did you wake up?” “What were you doing at the campus recreation center?” “Did you come into the building agitated?” I felt confused, powerless, and scared, but I made sure to maintain my composure. I remembered that even unarmed Black people disproportionately get killed during police encounters, and it was incumbent on me as an innocent Black man to show that I wasn’t a threat.

It wasn’t until the end of their interrogation that they revealed why I was being questioned. Someone had called the university’s anonymous tip line, reporting that they had seen an “agitated Black male” who was carrying “a heavy backpack that is almost hitting the ground” as he approached the Whitmore Administration Building. I — the “agitated Black male” — apparently posed such a threat that police put the entire building on lockdown for half an hour.

Amazon trained a sexism-fighting, resume-screening AI with sexist hiring data, so the bot became sexist

Some parts of machine learning are incredibly esoteric and hard to grasp, surprising even seasoned computer science pros; other parts of it are just the same problems that programmers have contended with since the earliest days of computation. The problem Amazon had with its machine-learning-based system for screening job applicants was the latter. (more…)

Man divorces wife after catching her with another man on Google Maps

A man in Peru was recently using Google maps to figure out how to get to a bridge in Lima. He moved the camera around the city's streets, when suddenly he noticed a woman sitting on a bench who reminded him of his wife. She even wore the same type of clothes – white open blouse, jeans, black boots with heels. He then zoomed in, and lo and behold, it WAS his wife, with a man's head on her lap.

He confronted her, and yes, it was what it looked like – she had been having an affair with the man.

The couple is now divorced. Ironically, Google had taken the photo of the woman and her fellow on the Bridge of Sighs.

Via TechSpot

Image: Google Maps

Student's DoNotPay app expands to include pushbutton small claims lawsuits

Joshua Browder launched DoNotPay when he started his computer science degree at Stanford; at first the app automated the process of fighting traffic tickets, then it expanded to helping homeless people claim benefits, then he automated suing Equifax for leaking all your financial data, then navigating the airlines' deliberately confusing process for getting refunds on plane tickets whose prices drop after you buy them. (more…)

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