Flies make a point…


[Slightly enhanced to match a 54-year-old memory of the last time I saw this]

…After this week’s vice-presidential debate in the United States, the fly that landed on Vice-President Mike Pence’s head was more of a sensation than the details of the debate — at least on social media…

When a fly becomes famous, it’s worth wondering why

…In the great scheme of things, our lives are no longer than that of a fly. For me as an art historian, the fly was a moment to reflect not only on the history of flies in western painting, but to begin considering what the long history of this symbolism may reveal about why the fly generated so much buzz…

Salvador Dalí, who was pretty much the lord of the flies (he painted them a lot) included a fly on the watch face of his painting The Persistence of Memory (now housed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York). He also used an army of ants to signify the decay of time and life’s impermanence…

Good enough reasons for me. Certainly, sufficient starters for your own musings about flies.

A man was reinfected with coronavirus after recovering…!


May James/AFP/Getty

A 33-year old man was found to have a second SARS-CoV-2 infection some four-and-a-half months after he was diagnosed with his first, from which he recovered. The man, who showed no symptoms, was diagnosed when he returned to Hong Kong after a trip to Spain.

There is no published peer-review report on this man – only a press release from the University of Hong Kong – although reports say the work will be published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The author, Megan Culler Freeman, asks and answers questions raised by the news reports.

Math geeks hoarding chalk?

A type of blackboard chalk that was produced for decades by just one factory in Japan was so highly prized by mathematicians they referred to it as “the Rolls-Royce of chalk.”

And when rumors surfaced about the chalk being discontinued, some academics resorted to stockpiling as many boxes as they could get their chalk-covered hands on…

Hagoromo made chalk for more than 80 years, and for those who weren’t lucky enough to live in Japan, Fulltouch was always difficult to get. Then, as Hagoromo prepared to shut down in 2015, many dedicated aficionados began grimly preparing for a world without Fulltouch. They bought dozens upon dozens of boxes, some hoarding enough chalk to last through the end of their careers…

…The chalk is long-lasting, virtually unbreakable, bright and easy to read on a chalkboard, smooth as butter to write with, and practically dustless, Jeremy Kun, a Google engineer with a Ph.D. in mathematics, wrote in a 2015 blog post bidding farewell to Fulltouch.

There’s a video heading the article. So renowned is the chalk among mathematics professionals that it is accompanied by its own legend: It is impossible to write a false theorem with it, David Eisenbud, director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Oakland, California, says in the video.

Scariest Deepfake Of Them All


Thanks, gocomics.org

Last month brought the introduction of GPT-3, the next frontier of generative writing: an AI that can produce shockingly human-sounding (if at times surreal) sentences. As its output becomes ever more difficult to distinguish from text produced by humans, one can imagine a future in which the vast majority of the written content we see on the internet is produced by machines. If this were to happen, how would it change the way we react to the content that surrounds us?…

Generated media, such as deepfaked video or GPT-3 output…if used maliciously, there is no unaltered original, no raw material that could be produced as a basis for comparison or evidence for a fact-check. In the early 2000s, it was easy to dissect pre-vs-post photos of celebrities and discuss whether the latter created unrealistic ideals of perfection. In 2020, we confront increasingly plausible celebrity face-swaps on porn, and clips in which world leaders say things they’ve never said before. We will have to adjust, and adapt, to a new level of unreality. Even social media platforms recognize this distinction; their deepfake moderation policies distinguish between media content that is synthetic and that which is merely “modified”.

But synthetic text—particularly of the kind that’s now being produced—presents a more challenging frontier. It will be easy to generate in high volume, and with fewer tells to enable detection. Rather than being deployed at sensitive moments in order to create a mini scandal or an October Surprise, as might be the case for synthetic video or audio, textfakes could instead be used in bulk, to stitch a blanket of pervasive lies. As anyone who has followed a heated Twitter hashtag can attest, activists and marketers alike recognize the value of dominating what’s known as “share of voice”: Seeing a lot of people express the same point of view, often at the same time or in the same place, can convince observers that everyone feels a certain way, regardless of whether the people speaking are truly representative—or even real. In psychology, this is called the majority illusion. As the time and effort required to produce commentary drops, it will be possible to produce vast quantities of AI-generated content on any topic imaginable. Indeed, it’s possible that we’ll soon have algorithms reading the web, forming “opinions,” and then publishing their own responses. This boundless corpus of new content and comments, largely manufactured by machines, might then be processed by other machines, leading to a feedback loop that would significantly alter our information ecosystem.

And another chapter in the endless rewrite of “BRAVE NEW WORLD” drops into view.

Revolutionary prototyping with the 2021 Ford Bronco design team


Ford Motor Company

The Bronco design team made their early prototypes out of packing material. “There was a lot of stumbling upon invention,” Wraith says. “We were able to quickly see a full-size, scale car in a matter of a week or so—in much shorter time frames. They were very fast and very cheap. You could just chop off pieces and overlay it with VR [virtual reality]; it was what we needed to show something that was much more realistic than clay models.

The link takes you to an article about 5 “design secrets”. The VR info is #3. I found all of them interesting; but, I’ve been a gearhead for decades. The VR stuff is for geeks as well as folks interested in design.

Apple Still Won’t Help the FBI Break Into iPhones. Good.

That’s the title of an Opinion Piece published in Bloomberg News.

There are two important lessons in this week’s announcement that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has finally succeeded in cracking two mobile phones belonging to Mohammed Alshamrani, the aviation student who killed three people last December at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida.

The first lesson is that cracking an encrypted device takes time and effort even when the federal government brings all its resources to bear. The second is that Apple still refuses to build tools to make hacking its mobile devices easier.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’m happy about both.

RTFA. Stephen Carter makes a decent – albeit flawed – case for the first lesson. I’ll stick with his support for the second on principle.

The flaw? He thinks the cost of resources required to hack into anyone’s phone is prohibitive and, therefore, self-limiting. We have government agencies that gleefully waste billion$ on anachronistic military devices, pet projects for totally anal politicians, self-congratulatory research on regulations premised upon moving this nation in just about any direction but forward. Don’t count on wasting money as a problem.

Levitated timepiece – and a new benchmark

A new mechanical “clock” has been created by an international team of researchers, led by scientists at the University of St Andrews, which could test the fundamental physics of gravity.

The levitated mechanical oscillator, created within a glass sphere the size of a single blood cell, was manipulated by light by the team to create an ultra-sensitive sensor which could measure temperature and pressure changes at the nanoscale.

This highly accurate clock could potentially detect gravity at smaller scales than previously possible and find potential evidence for deviations from Newton’s laws of gravity calling for new physics beyond what we currently understand…If this was actually a clock, it would be so accurate that it would only have lost half-a-millionth of a second in a whole day.”

I winder if Jeff Bezos knows about this clock, yet? Bet he’d want it for his collection, his research.

Driving is down – so are organ transplants. Hmm?

Deaths from motor vehicle crashes and fatal injuries are the biggest source of organs for transplant, accounting for 33% of donations, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages the nation’s organ transplant system…

From March 8 to April 11, the number of organ donors who died in traffic collisions was down 23% nationwide compared with the same period last year, while donors who died in all other types of accidents were down 21%, according to data from UNOS.

Awkward, eh?