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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019 - 18:37 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert


There's always plenty to catch up on after a couple of weeks off, such as carboloading the hamsters. The local anti-Fake News fiasco doesn't seem to have abated in that period, with the Media Literacy Council somehow managing to class satire under Fake News, to which our Law and Home Affairs minister - already busy fighting a flailing rearguard action on cannabis acceptance - had to state the bloody obvious. That didn't prevent the satire definition getting distributed to Primary One kids, who may honestly be a bit in over their heads, as the authorities rush to start the inoculation young - and have we mentioned that the crafting of the relevant Act has the government legally free to spread their own Fake News?

This is perhaps just as well, from how another up-and-coming minister has gone on the record that the changes to the Presidential elections were not for political gain, which come to think of it, may qualify as excellent satire. Local football may have to apply for a pass too, with the cosmetic rebranding of the Singapore Premier League last year, now followed by a pledge to get to the World Cup finals in 2034. This would have been slightly more convincing had it not come off the back of steadily-sliding rankings to the point of being at the level of traditional Southeast Asian minnows, the closure of the national elite youth academy, and being assigned an importance ranking of "completely useless" in the meticulously-researched Football Manager series. Next to none of the actual problems are being addressed, as is common knowledge, but I guess the plan is to double down on the bold claims and aim for the World Cup trophy itself, after Goal 2034 inevitably falls through.

And to follow up on a couple of expected consequences, the beginning of a plastic bag charge may already be precipitating poor rubbish chute hygiene, because twenty cents is twenty cents. Over in America, the economics of fetal organs also seems to be playing out as anticipated from a few months back, with a sting uncovering evidence of Planned Parenthood executives haggling over the sale of baby body parts because, seriously, what did you expect? To California's credit for once, they're cracking down on private for-profit prisons; now, if they could just get over that plastic straw ban...


On the the academic end, the value of pairing computer science with economics - which was to me kinda natural from overlaps in game theory, optimization algorithms and of late cryptoeconomics, etc - is finally gaining momentum, with MIT, Brown and now Yale coming out with joint majors. That aside, the rise of the pre-doc in economics had me concerned; yes, going for a Masters to boost one's profile for top Ph.D. programmes was always a thing, but a pre-doc on top of that, just to get to the starting line? This is probably just the next natural progression of acadame's pyramid scheme, after the normalization of stacking multiple (and, to rub it in, possibly unpaid) post-doc terms, especially in bio and basic science.

There's also something to be said for orthodox economic theory being employed as a coordination device, by the way - as a sage Hacker News comment has it, "Basically, nobody knows anything. But if everyone were to admit that, there would be no basis on which to conduct policy... So people make up and promote a narrative (bullshit story) and if enough people believe or are made to believe in it, then you have a basis for relatively stable and coherent policy regime". Under this viewpoint, the gatekeeping of prestigious journals and think-tanks effectively serves as a policy instrument... which seems about right. Consider for example the band-aid of utilizing housing grants to support the real-estate-as-sound-money paradigm, which however may or may not simply further delay the reckoning as sellers raise prices in tandem.

Conspiracy Fallout

They gave him a consolation ribbon after that
(Source: r/funny)

So much for the Area 51 raid, which went from a grand spectacle of massive hilljack, rockthrower, Kyle and of course Naruto runner formations, to a few hundred fellas reaching the gates (which should by the way reinforce the usefulness of walls). This was however also recognized by grizzled theorists as merely a distraction from the Epstein case, in which it was revealed that the camera footage from outside his cell has been deemed unusable. Given that both cameras supposedly malfunctioned at the same time (recall, as both guards napped), suspicion is understandably mounting even among Epstein's own lawyers... who had however also overseen a change to his will that likely will keep his fortune from his accusers, just two days before his "suicide". It's all too convenient.

Some heads are at least rolling, most prominently perhaps Joi Ito, formerly director of the MIT Media Lab; again, it was not so much the deed (Harvard just barefacedly owned it in TRUMPIAN manner, for one) as the cover-up, with the lab snagging over seven million bucks from Epstein and pals, which to be frank they probably could have done with.

Ito would shortly be topped by none less than free and open-source software guru (note magnificent beard) Richard Stallman, who too resigned from his MIT positions. Thing is, Stallman was, to the best of public knowledge, not involved in Epstein's hijinks, financial or otherwise. His sin was in going full Amos Yee in very awkwardly defending Minsky, by positing that the minors involved could well be entirely willing. Technically, there could be an argument for it, I suppose, but as with Gödel discovering a loophole in the Constitution during his citizenship interview, it probably wasn't the best of times or places to ruminate about distasteful scenarios. A shame, really.

Chat App Etiquette

I've got to admit that it's not easy to figure out the correct degree of interaction with mobile-based groups chats (WhatsApp, WeChat, etc); compare previous iterations - email-based messageboards such as Yahoo Groups made no pretense as to immediacy, while Internet-based chatrooms like IRC and ICQ were session-based, with no expectation of permanency. Phone calls and SMS might demand attention, but they were at least generally limited in scope to one-on-one interactions. WhatsApp, however, brings together the best/worst of all worlds: an always-on, 24/7, deluge of unfettered social dynamics, plagued with concerns over responding too quickly and getting mired in conversation/flooding the group, or whether to return to a previous thread and possibly disrupting the current flow, with all the concomitant misunderstandings that could ensue. Group chat transcripts must be a sociolinguist's dream, frankly. Personally, I'm uncertain whether humans were designed to operate under such enforced scrutiny.

Face-Name Association

Got remembered as "Gabriel" once again recently - note that I'm hardly upset, given how terrible I'm with names and sometimes faces, myself. I'd say this may shed some light on the workings of memory. Could it be, for example, that this was down to the recall of "G", which then segued into the most-likely reconstruction? I don't have any hard local stats, but "Gabriel" does anecdotally seem more common than "Gilbert" here, and up to ten times more popular when the 1980s came around. Quite fascinating how memory and knowledge works, really - perhaps another example would be how there might be an impression that New York and London are at roughly the same latitude, due to their unique statuses in the Anglophile world, when London is in fact significantly (about eleven degrees) further north than NY... and indeed even Quebec City. Geographic intuitions can be kinda unreliable.

Faces have always held a special affection in computer vision since the days of Lena, and the rise of various GANs (generative adversarial networks) has seen ultra-high fidelity generation and reconstruction of facial images become feasible in the past year or two, definitely a huge leap from the days of principal component analysis and eigenfaces. The dark side is then, unavoidably, the continued erosion of privacy by Big Tech, with reliable lip-reading and casual behavioural monitoring thought-crime very much on the cards... which only makes the Epstein surveillance failure more and more improbable.

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