Tim Boucher

Questionable content, possibly linked

Category: Assessment

Duolingo percent fluent score is way off

I’ve been using Duolingo for several weeks now to create a base floor of knowledge in German. I’ve decided their percent fluency score is pretty much random…

The length of time I’ve been 26% Fluent in German is ridiculous. Obviously, I understand this is a hard thing to measure, and that people need to incentivize their progress as they work through the steps towards a goal like this, but this is one element I really wish they would revisit.

I also don’t really care at all about their virtual reward currency, “lingots,” which allow me to “buy cool stuff at their virtual store.” It has almost no bearing on my usage of the application.

Lastly, don’t fool yourself into thinking that because you’re receiving good marks on a language via Duolingo that this will automatically translate into a “high score” when you go try to practice speaking that language in the actual country or community. It’s a fun app, and can be a good supplement to other learning, but I wouldn’t trust a 100% fluency score off Duolingo to equal real world fluence by a long shot…

Bagpipes and goats

Curiosity has gotten the better of me, and I finally broke down and bought a practice chanter (to learn to play bagpipes) from Amazon. It’s a cheap one, and every bagpipe site I have ever seen likes to write, in all caps, warnings like:

DON'T YOU DARE BUY A CHEAP ONE!!!!

Which is all well and good if you’re sure ahead of time you’re going to make this plunge and commit to it forever. But starting with a $15 trial balloon over a $100 experiment seems like a good idea to me. What do I know!

The more I’ve gotten into researching the types and history of pipes though, the more compelling it actually is. I mean, as far as “windbags” go…

This is one of my favorite piping videos for a lot of reasons:

Oddly, it turns out that goats and bagpipes seem to have been intimately connected for quite some time.

If you delve into piping history (at least the online sources I found), they put the first officially recognized mention of bagpipes to a Roman source sometime in early AD. But there’s an elemental pattern you can see behind the pipes if you look with the “eyes of the goat.”

I’m not going to pretend to be any kind of expert, but I found a bunch of different traditional forms of bagpipes which are not only made of goat skin, but which explicitly seem to reference the form of the animal, with either heads included, or else with drones, chanters and windpipes in place of the limbs of the beast.

Check out, for example, the Zaqq from Malta:

Here’s another one from Eastern Europe:

And this is included ‘just for fun’: via Duda on Wikipedia:

“…there were many legends about bagpipes that could play themselves when hung from the wall on a nail or about pipers summoned to Witches’ Sabbaths to perform for satanic hosts.”

So my hypothesis, for the moment, goes something like this:

Bagpiping is a secondary cultural artifact from raising goats (or sheep, variously–just using goats as a catch-all here). In French, we have this handy word for goat-raising, Capriculture.

Moreover, the evolution of the “windbag” is simply an augmentation of pre-existing reed flutes, like this German dude (assuming he’s German–maybe I’m wrong) makes in the Youtube video below:

Bagpipes are basically this attached to a pipe you do your fingering on – chanter – which sticks out of a bag, and which has anywhere from typically 1-3 drones, which are reeds on pipes each tuned to sound at one continuous note.

So there’s a precursor invention, the reed pipe, which is more or less a “natural” human invention from naturally-occurring material. Which is over time grafted onto this other invention: an animal skin or bladder which can be inflated or deflated with air or liquid.

Taken in this light, the instrument becomes less a strange oddity, and something more elemental, and perhaps very ancient – as ancient as the human relationships with the plants and animals from which the craft originally descended.

That’s the theory anyway. Not sure I’m ready to start keeping goats, but I’m warming up to giving piping a shot. Will keep you posted!

PS. I love how that last video shows the pipes mixed with the sound of sheep’s bells

Trust-breakers (Chinese Social Credit System)

Legal effects of automated processing, a comparison.

I’ve been reading about China’s emerging social credit system, Sesame Credit.

“The score is used to rank citizens of China based on a variety of factors like loyalty to the Chinese government and loyalty to Chinese brands based on social media interactions and online purchases. The rewards of having a high score include easier access to loans, easier access to jobs and priority during bureaucratic paperwork.”

Here are a couple articles to get you started:

Blah blah blah, obligatory Black Mirror reference. Now that we have that out of the way, from the CNBC link:

“When rules are broken and not rectified in time, you are entered in a list of ‘people subject to enforcement for trust breaking’ and you are denied access from things. Rules broken can lead to companies being unable to issue corporate bonds or individuals not being allowed to become company directors,” Creemers said.

Basically, a bunch of apps and agencies work together to rank your behavior and profile you socially as either a trust-keeper or trust-breaker as described above. Via the FP link:

“By 2020, the government says that social credit will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.””

I had a dream years ago that I used a urinal at a shopping mall, and the system automatically administered a drug test on me, which I failed. Not being a cell phone user, I needed to then borrow a friend’s phone to make a call and the system linked my voice-print to my biometric/pee test and I was disallowed from using my friend’s phone. Such a unified system may be a few years off still, but the possibility is becoming tantalizingly real. I might even say it’s, on some level of implementation, pretty much inevitable.

I’ve been following a parallel strand of research these past few months. It’s partly intuition, partly investigative leg work, but it’s lead from public records databases used by private eyes ? to the vast store-houses of data kept commercially against named individuals by data brokers. I’m still largely in the dark about how data brokers operate, and, er, broker — despite hours spent around the subject on Youtube. But I have to assume that those storehouses of information about people have to be searchable — at a price. Whether it’s pseudonymized in aggregate, or traceable to an identified or identifiable individual, all this information exists somewhere out there, waiting to be linked up and put to use.

Meanwhile, half a world away, Europe is set to roll out it’s GDPR next May (2018) which will quite possibly make very difficult – or at least very different – such a social credit system were it to be rolled out to customers in the European Economic Area.

I explored this question elsewhere, of processing of personally-identifying information linked to automated decision-making, and profiling, with “legal effects”. So I won’t completely rehash it here, but to quote Article 22 of the GDPR:

“The data subject shall have the right not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated processing, including profiling, which produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her.”

The recital for that article mentions explicitly as an example the “automatic refusal of an online credit application” as something that has a legal effect.

I guess this is worth quoting more extensively from second half of Recital 71:

“Such processing includes ‘profiling’ that consists of any form of automated processing of personal data evaluating the personal aspects relating to a natural person, in particular to analyse or predict aspects concerning the data subject’s performance at work, economic situation, health, personal preferences or interests, reliability or behaviour, location or movements, where it produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her.”

So this is pretty much explicitly describing an all-encompassing “social credit” system such as is currently being live-beta tested on Chinese society. In other words, Europe is baking into their privacy & data protection regime this idea that the fundamental rights of humanity (from which privacy/data prot. are derived) are incompatible with automated decision-making based on data processing with (potentially negative) legal consequences.

That’s huge.

To me, as we move into the Algorithmic Society (and it’s many diverse, fascinating and horrifying forms, instantiations and iterations), this will be a fundamental tension as humanity transitions to greater and greater levels of algorithmic control, automation and governance of day-to-day life.

Quoting from Art. 22, 3:

“…at least the right to obtain human intervention on the part of the controller, to express his or her point of view and to contest the decision.”

The subject still blows my mind. Partly because we now live in (or very soon will) a society where such rules have become necessary. The algorithmic age where Trust Breakers ™ can’t buy train tickets, or make a phone call. But in exchange for keeping your score up, you’re eligible for ultra-fast lane physical access from Boston to DC in 15 minutes, with no control checkpoints, minimal surge pricing, only light deep packet inspection and limited throttling. [See full Terms & Conditions.]

Or a world where slow, boring, crappy, unreliable human bureaucratic decision-making is baked into break-points in societal algorithms to ensure some sort of fairness, humanity, tolerance, resilience (and maybe forgiveness?) into what will otherwise most assuredly become a mesh of AI’s vying for planetary control…

I’m sorry, that’s just where my mind goes when I pull out my ?. I think it’s why I like the GDPR as a document in the first place: it reads like a dystopian cyberpunk text that young punks in the future will repeat back verbatim to quasi-governmental robots that are beating the snot out of them because their social credit score has fallen too low.

Whoops, I went off into la-la land there again at the end*. But what can I say? I’m on vacation! ??


* You try talking about this without landing on the subject of killer robots. It’s not so easy. It’s like Godwin’s law, but for killer robots and data processing.

Tom Delonge UFO explainer

In case you were wondering…

I’ve never liked Blink 182, so cracking the lead singer, Tom Delonge’s (pronounced da-long) strange fascination with all things UFO is a bit of a chore since there seem to be a bunch of bad quality Youtube videos on the subject which are gently serenaded by the group’s irritating tunes.

Putting that prejudgement aside, I’ve been vacationing down the ? ? which I keep seeing come up on /r/conspiracy related to Tom Delonge’s quest for UFO disclosure.

Anyway, I watched a bunch of bad videos on the subject so you don’t have to – or maybe so you can two. idk. Either way, I recommend starting here:

This video is often referenced elsewhere. Basically, in the Wikileaks DNC dump, we can find references to emails between John Podesta (then presidential advisor) and Tom Delonge about high-level talks around possible UFO disclosure. Here’s one such email from Wikileaks for reference.

I tried watching Delonge’s appearance on Larry King but found it unbearably boring, so follow that link if you want.

This video of somebody named Grant Cameron interviewed in a hotel room at a UFO conference about mostly Delonge is long and rambling and has a few interesting parts.

So take this for whatever it’s worth. Anyway there is a Reddit thread which basically summarizes the video here.

“In a recent interview UFO researcher Grant Cameron claims to have some info regarding Tom’s upcoming announcement.

  • The goal of the operation is to get the story out through Hollywood
  • It’s a billion dollar project backed by one of the richest people in the world
  • 100-episode series that will run for 5 years, directed by Spielberg amd J.J. Abrams

“It’s not gonna be full disclosure, but it’s going to be massive.”

By ‘disclosure’ we’re talking about public announcement/acknowledgement by the US government that extraterrestrials exist, and we’ve been in contact with them as a species since… whatever date. Roswell? The 1950’s? Not fully sure here and doesn’t really matter, as each researcher seems to have their own ideas.

Anyway, I’ve also found some bizarre mentions of Delonge on Reddit within the last week or so. Something about some predatory behavior (of others) and possibly human trafficking? It’s all pretty suspicious, taken as a whole.

Apparently Delonge’s media company which he wants to pin all the possibly-real/possibly-misinformation disclosure stuff onto as a franchis is To the Stars, and he has a book series with Peter Levenda, called Sekret Machines — the spelling of which “drives me nuts” but oh well.

But yeah, that’s basically that. Now you know probably everything you might ever need to know on the subject — and then some!

Learning German

I’ve been playing around with Duolingo for German. I wouldn’t say I’m “learning” German from the app, though, as it claims I’m already 25% fluent in the language. Which I’m clearly not.

I’m starting to use Youtube to supplement the Duolingo exercises, and that seems to be helping to make more concrete what I’m drilling in the app. Plus when you hear people speak, you can listen to the music of the expression, which I think is a much easier way to learn than by rote memorization. Though the two can also go together well, I suppose.

In any event, this is a great playlist where the German speaker goes around the city and talks about objects, people, etc and it shows both the German words and a small English translation underneath. It’s by Easy German:

 

Coursera needs quicker access to videos

Dear Coursera,

I’m enjoying the video lessons from Coursera’s “Internet Giants” course, but I find the videos are too hard to get to.

This is the public home page of the course, which is what I always end up accessing through via my web browser autocomplete in the address bar.

https://www.coursera.org/learn/internetgiants

Which becomes when you click “Go to Course” (I’m not already at the course?):

https://www.coursera.org/learn/internetgiants/home/welcome

And this confusing chart of weeks…

I appreciate that they want to replicate some sort of “classroom experience” which would take place across successive weeks in time, but that’s not how I consume the product. This is the internet after all. I watch two or three of the videos in a row, as time permits. And then I come back at staggered intervals. Every couple of days or so.

So the meta-conception of weeks becomes actually a hindrance for me to simply do the thing that is integral to my use of the product: just watch the next video.

  • I don’t care about the quizzes.
  • I’m not of the belief someone will care if I paid $66 in the future to officially “pass” this online course.
  • I don’t have time for the extra readings, though I’m sure they are fascinating.

I just want to see the next video, and to “ride the wave” of the subject matter as it unfolds through the narrative of a skilled instructor.

How about from the initial homepage, there’s just a button that says Continue?

Soomz webcam cover review

I recently purchased from Amazon.ca, a pack of 3 web cam covers made by Soomz, a Swiss company.

The price I thought, $15 for 3, was a bit high but the product fits on both a Macbook Pro and Air, and seems to “work fine.”

I’m pretty sure, and read as much, that these won’t work that well on a mobile phone or other device which has more in-and-out-of-pocket type action. They are attached by adhesive, so that would probably wear out. But for laptop use they seem great.

I had been covering my webcam for years with black electrical tape, but that is less than ideal if you’re regularly engaging in video conferencing, and having to remove and reapply the tape with any regularity. This is nice because it operates by a simple slider mechanism, and I like the peace of mind it offers by being able to instantly visually verify that your camera is closed.

Privacy vs. data protection

Sometimes I wonder if introverts are more prone to being interested “privacy” when it comes to technology. I’m not entirely sure what else to posit as my probable cause for having concerns about this subject in my online and/or personal life, but I always have.

Was just looking at a Reddit r/privacy thread about this, where someone is trying to convince their family member to get into Linux, get into privacy, etc. As far as Linux goes, I’m sure it’s great and I’ve had other people try to convince me to get into it as well, and have never had the time/interest to do so.

But being concerned about privacy just comes naturally to me.  That said, I agree there is a big brick wall you hit when talking to people who aren’t naturally interested in this subject. It’s the old argument of “I’m not doing anything wrong, so I don’t need to hide what I’m doing.”

I’ve heard this argument so many times now that it almost makes my brain fritz when I hear it. What could one possibly say in response? Something, something tyranny? I don’t know the answer really. I’m also not overly concerned with converting anyone to the privacy cause.

In discovering the EU conception of privacy though, I was happy to see it flipped in the direction of data protection instead. While it might be just a semantic difference, I like looking at data protection moreso than privacy because it seems a bit easier, or more neutral, to explain the virtue of it. Someone who doesn’t necessarily care about privacy might still be able to grasp and be interested in the idea that their personal data ought to be subject to some kind of controls and safeguards.

You don’t have to be “doing something wrong” to benefit from having your personal data protected, and even — gasp — regulated (yes, I know regulation is anathema in the American mythic identity). Data protection to me is more like the ability to set limits of who can access what in the data-streams we create out of our lives. Who are we willing to share what with? What are the expectations of use for any given point of data?

When you set something to be shared only with one or two trusted people, or a select group of friends, what are the repercussions of that setting not being respected? You don’t have to be doing something against the law to get into trouble sharing information with the wrong target audience.

Though I still use both terms, it was a relief to me to discover the articulation of a clear(er) mandate in the realm of data protection regimes, versus the often muddy and seemingly arbitrary realm of “privacy.”

It may very well be that in the next two decades, our expectations for what was traditionally called privacy may go way down, whereas our need for strong data protection will go up, up and up as we generate and are awash in more and more data…

To weirdos with questions

I’ve been ? investigating what it takes to become a licensed private investigator in the province of Quebec. Kind of just for fun, really, as an extension of a burgeoning interest in privacy and data protection.  Apparently there is a 135 hr training requirement, but no one seems to be able to point me to an equivalent training that’s both available in English and online.

Okay, fine. So sue me for living in a French province in a bilingual country and asking for resources in English. I get it, there’s a charter to protect the French language from being overwhelmed in a predominantly English-language culture. But still. We can do both, right? I think that’s the ideal.

Anyway, I’ve been simultaneously querying a variety of agencies for help: from associations, to training providers, to provincial authorities in neighboring Ontario. My hobby is emailing people I don’t know, with some weird questions. So I’m actually pretty used to this now.

Ontario has, by comparison, an only 50 hr training requirement which is significantly less than Quebec. Unclear still if you have to actually *be* a resident of that province to be licensed there.

I don’t know though what your practice would conceivably consist of though. If you’re licensed in one province, but operating in another. Maybe I’m going about all this in the completely wrong direction.  One possible pathway would be to have the operating province recognize the license given in the other. But for what benefit and to what eventual end?

I’m really not an expert on these things. I’m just someone with a lot of questions. ? ❓ But here’s the thing you find when you start asking the people or the agencies, or the people who are out there and who *are* the experts: no one necessarily knows the answer. The questions may never have been asked before. A specific pre-built answer may require interpretation and invention.

And few people acting in official capacities are comfortable being publicly wrong. So it’s a natural human response, I’m sure, to just not to want to answer weirdos with questions. At least that’s commonly where I end up on these hare-brained tangents of mine where I end up emailing a dozen different people for help or answers with a specific question or problem.

There exists, a certain, I guess we could call it ‘tenacity of research‘ which one may possess or perhaps develop as a personality trait… such that following through with it in fullness, and learning to harness and direct it, may actively create answers that didn’t exist before through a radical act of questioning. In the course of asking and answering certain questions, you may through patience and persistence become the eventual expert. You might just invoke an unthing into being.

I don’t know what any of this means, though vis-a-vis where we started. Except, if you gotta ?, then ?. If you look and you find there’s no answer, you make one out of what’s available and what you can dream up.

 

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