Google Brain is a Cat Person

Google made an artifical brain by linking together 16,000 computers with 1,000,000,000 connections (a fraction of a normal brain, but what the heck) and set it loose on YouTube. Over a couple of days of constant work, the artificial brain learned to recognize various things including cats.

Picking up on the most commonly occurring images featured on YouTube, the system achieved 81.7 percent accuracy in detecting human faces, 76.7 percent accuracy when identifying human body parts and 74.8 percent accuracy when identifying cats.

“Contrary to what appears to be a widely-held intuition, our experimental results reveal that it is possible to train a face detector without having to label images as containing a face or not,” the team says in its paper, Building high-level features using large scale unsupervised learning, which it will present at the International Conference on Machine Learning in Edinburgh, 26 June-1 July.

Details here.

What I want to know is this: If I put a kitty cat on every one of my blog posts will I get more hits???

“She didn’t apologize. She started laughing. I was on my hands and knees picking up bone fragments.”

Actually, I think the TSA does a pretty good job at their security theater. (Calling it something like “security theater” does not automatically prove that such theater has no function.) I remember the old days when there were one or two hijacking of an airplane every single week. Hell, my friend Billy’s dad hijacked a plane!. And later when I was doing a lot of international travelling, when there were few hijackings but the security systems at airports were visibly flawed. So I appreciate that there have been improvements even if it may be not the way I would have done it.

Having said that, TSA agents can be real boneheads at times. The latest is a case of a man bringing his father through security. His father, as it happens, as in a jar in the form of cremains. The TSA agent ended up spilling about 25% of dad on the floor and laughing about it, supposedly.

“They opened up my bag, and I told them, ‘Please, be careful. These are my grandpa’s ashes,’” Gross told RTV6′s Norman Cox. “She picked up the jar. She opened it up.
“I was told later on that she had no right to even open it, that they could have used other devices, like an X-ray machine. So she opened it up. She used her finger and was sifting through it. And then she accidentally spilled it.”

Read the rest of the story here.

If those TSA agents could see the stuff I brought through airports before they showed up they’d freak. Human remains? Huh. Run of the mill.

More Proof that Most Republicans are Morons

Remember the whole WMD thing, where President George W. Bush and Colin Powell and all those guys looked the American People straight in the face and said “we are absolutely certain that Saddam Hussein has Weapons of Mass Destruction”? Many doubted this claim. The war happened, and the claim was absolutely totally undeniably indubitably proven false. But Republicans kept saying it like it was true over and over again.

Well, a current poll shows that a majority of Republicans believe that Saddam had WMDs.

The poll is here (PDF). It covers a lot more than just WMDs and is worth a look.

I find it interesting that the poll uses the term “Democrat” to refer to the “Democratic Party” but it does not use “Republic” to refer to the “Republican Party.” Anyway, the poll showed that “..63 percent of Republican respondents still believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded in 2003. By contrast, 27 percent of independents and 15 percent of Democrats shared that view.” (see this summary)

Claus Larsen and SkepticReport

The only time I ever heard of Claus Larsen and Skeptic Report are when Claus shows up here to make a fool of himself by acting at the archetypal “Skeptic” who has no appreciation whatsoever for how the process of inquiry and debate operate, for nuance or context, or for that matter, simple truth and dealing with fact. His latest stroll through my blog had him demanding evidence for claims I had made about Thunderf00t’s video, when I had made no claims whatsoever about any such thing. He also brought along a “when did you stop beating your wife” sort of question regarding skepchick.org.

THIS IS A LINK to that conversation.

At first I found this annoying, then I realized that Claus is a Poe. He’s totally made up. No one can be that absurd without doing it on purpose.

But, then I realized that if Claus was here he’d DEMAND EVIDENCE that he is a Poe. And I don’t really have any. He’d be right.

So, I’ve put this blog post up for anyone to add any information, in the comments, about Claus Larsen and SkepticReport. Do you know who this guy is? Have you met him in real life? Is he really as silly in person as he presents himself on his site and in comments on other people’s sites?

Also, and this question is a bit trickier. His activism against sexual harassment guidelines at conferences seems to be way over the top for anyone. If he is a Poe that is easily explained. If he is not a Poe, then how do you explain that? Any ideas?

Thunderf00t’s post: Poorly thought out, poorly made, and he owes an apology

Tunderf00t, a very new addition to the Free Thought Blogs stable of ponies, unicorns, Atheists and Skeptics, is being a dick.

He has taken the position that all this talk and all this consternation about sexual harassment strategies at conferences is not important and sexual harassment at these venues is not an issue. Fine. He’s wrong, but he is certainly entitled to think that as long as his credibility isn’t that important to him. (I say this last bit because he’s basing his arguments on invective and flourish and not reason, which makes him look kinda like an idiot. I also don’t feel a need to counter his “calm and rational” arguments here because his post was obviously written with only a glancing reference to all the prior writing on this topic. Perhaps if he spends the time to catch up to the rest of us I’ll take the time to address what he has to say.) (more…)

Should people be able to trademark body parts and looks?

Anthony Davis is apparently some sort of athelete, and he apparently has these eyebrows:

And he intends to trademark them. Well, actually, he’s already trademarked them:

Davis, known for his connected eyebrows, trademarked the phrases “Fear The Brow” and “Raise The Brow” earlier this month.
“I don’t want anyone to try to grow a unibrow because of me and then try to make money off of it,”

It is a good thing he does not have a twin, or there might be a fierce, and at the same time incredibly stupid, legal battle.

Romney: Outsourcer-in-Chief

Obama campaign’s latest ad:

The Washington Post story referred to is here, and says:

During the nearly 15 years that Romney was actively involved in running Bain, a private equity firm that he founded, it owned companies that were pioneers in the practice of shipping work from the United States to overseas call centers and factories making computer components, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission….

While Bain was not the largest player in the outsourcing field, the private equity firm was involved early on, at a time when the departure of jobs from the United States was beginning to accelerate and new companies were emerging as handmaidens to this outflow of employment.

Bain played several roles in helping these outsourcing companies, such as investing venture capital so they could grow and providing management and strategic business advice as they navigated this rapidly developing field….

New Project: Marriage

I’ve started a new project on marriage. I was asked by some Minnesota-based political folks to consider writing a few blog posts on the science and anthropology associated with marriage, to evaluate some of the claims being made by anti same-sex-marriage activists, Republicans and others. I happen to be an expert on marriage, having been married several times. So, I am going to write a stream of posts on the topic on Greg Laden’s Blog starting with this one. There will be occasional posts connected to this stream here on The X Blog as appropriate, or perhaps the occasional cross posting. The entire flow of posts will be framed in intro pointer posts at the Minnesota Progressive Project, such as this one.

So, this is what you should do: Read this, then read this. Then, later, read other stuff.

There may be some guest posts.

Happy birthday to me

Yes, thanks to Facebook and Chris Rodda, the word’s out; it’s my birthday! One year has gone by since I promised myself to use a semi-colon at least once in every blog post for one year; that’s done with. And I want to thank all the people who have sent me birthday wishes on Facebook; I tried to “like” all of them but Facebook has rounded out my feed so at one point I see a single entry that says “175 people have wished you a happy birthday” and there’s a picture of about nine people there.

I’ll figure that out later.

Every year, there is one thing I want for my birthday, and Julia finds out what it is, and tells everyone else, and then they don’t get it for me usually because it is not spec’ed out, and later I buy it myself. This year my birthday present will be a small propane grill. Very small. Portable, even. Not a propane stove, but a propane grill. Weber makes one, it’s called the Weber 1520 Propane Gas Go-Anywhere Grill. We don’t grill much at home but when we do the charcoal grill is overkill even though it’s very nice (it was a birthday present from a few years back). And we’ll still use the charcoal grill now and then. But there are those times when pulling the charcoal grill out onto the driveway, getting the coals lit and ready, cooking two hot dogs and a potato or something followed by having this hot grill ready to be knocked down by the toddler for the next two hours seems like the wrong way to go. The small propane grill will require that I get a new and more useful table, which is actually a good thing. It is also portable so we can go down to the river now and then and cook our potato there.

There is also one thing I want for my birthday every couple of years that is too expensive and extravagant but Amanda gets it for me anyway; this was one of those years and the thing is a lens. Since I didn’t bring that camera up to the cabin I can’t show you anything yet, but in a few days you’ll see, I’ll finally be a great photographer! (It is all in the equipment, right?)

The other thing I got for my birthday was this: Two shirts from JC Pennys. Absolutely appropriate since this year my birthday falls on Pride Day in the Twin Cities.

Oh, and about the semi-colon; I was kidding.

Happy Birthday everybody! (Who’s having one, that is.) And thanks for the good wishes.

Art Imitates a Video Game

I’ve been watching old World War II era movies lately. I just watched The Last Escape starring Stewart Whitman and a cast of dozens. The plot: A British unit (sort of) led by an American is trying to sneak a German rocket scientist out of Germany as Russian units move into the area. It turns out the Russians are also after the rocket scientist and his colleagues.

There are two things about the movie that were interesting, one of which anyone will understand, the other for a select audience.

The first thing: Most of the scenes were of the English and American soldiers and the Germans that were with them. In these scenes everyone spoke English. But there were extensive scenes with the Germans, with lots of activity and conversation, and those scenes were all in German. And there were a few scenes with the Russians with dialog and action, and those were all in Russian.

There were no subtitles. You kinda had to know all three languages.

The second thing: Near the end of the movie is all became a chase scene with large strange looking trucks, tanks, and guys on foot with bazookas. And it looked exactly like one or two of the challenges in Lego Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues

Is Michele Bachmann painting a target on President Obama?

Bill Prendergast makes the case:

President Obama “thinks he’s above the law,” he’s “ignoring the laws of the land,” he “threw the constitution out the window” (again)–and he is conducting “an autocratic reign.”
All of that’s nuts, entirely untrue, and unsupported by the facts. So you know the speaker must be Michele Bachmann.

When she says stuff like this, she’s putting a sniper bull’s eye on the back of a President–the President who’s already received the most death threats ever. By 2009, Obama was getting 30 death threats a day.

At the Minnesota Progressive Project

Maggie Koerth Baker, A writer’s writer on “The World’s Shittiest Secret Society”

Maggie Koerth Baker, whom I am so very happy to know and count as a friend and sort of neighbor, has written an essay that is clearly one of the the most important and powerful essays regarding the topics of miscarriage abortion that you will ever read.

Someone said the other day somewhere out there in the intertubual space, quoting someone, that “You know you’re a writer when you suffer a painful injury and think, ‘great, now I can write about pain from personal experience.’” At this very moment, the ink is still wet on Maggie’s essay which is meant to do exactly that, to discuss miscarriage and abortion and many of the things that go along with these things from a very personal perspective.

Holy crap, Maggie. I want to see you soon and give you a hug or something.

Everybody, give yourself a few minutes and click here.

Belief in heaven = more crime?

Possibly. Here’s the abstract from a paper fresh out in PLoS ONE:

Though religion has been shown to have generally positive effects on normative ‘prosocial’ behavior, recent laboratory research suggests that these effects may be driven primarily by supernatural punishment. Supernatural benevolence, on the other hand, may actually be associated with less prosocial behavior. Here, we investigate these effects at the societal level, showing that the proportion of people who believe in hell negatively predicts national crime rates whereas belief in heaven predicts higher crime rates. These effects remain after accounting for a host of covariates, and ultimately prove stronger predictors of national crime rates than economic variables such as GDP and income inequality. Expanding on laboratory research on religious prosociality, this is the first study to tie religious beliefs to large-scale cross-national trends in pro- and anti-social behavior.

And HERE is a link to the paper.

Shariff AF, Rhemtulla M (2012) Divergent Effects of Beliefs in Heaven and Hell on National Crime Rates. PLoS ONE 7(6): e39048. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039048

JREF Welcomes New Communications Director

The James Randi Educational Foundation, which does important work on behalf of skepticism and education, has been without a communications director for a while now, but has just announced the appointment of Carrie Poppy to that position. From a blog post by DJ Grothe:

I am pleased to share some exciting news straight from the James Randi Educational Foundation, and to introduce you to the newest member of our team, Carrie Poppy. After months of searching and interviews, we are thrilled to have Carrie join us. She has been involved in the non-profit world for several years, and has worked on many successful campaigns in LGBTQ rights, animal protection, and skepticism, a cause about which she is especially passionate. I asked Carrie a few questions from our brand new offices in the heart of Hollywood, California. (Open house details to be announced in the weeks ahead; stay tuned!)

The rest of the post is an interview with Carrie.

Everything I’ve heard about Carrie Poppy is pretty positive, often glowing. The PETA link is interesting; if you’ve followed my commentary on “animal rights” you’ll know that I have a very pro-animal rights mixed with anti-animal rights set of views. And in between. Maybe that’s a topic we should bring up again in the near future.

Jeremy Stangroom

I among others stand up for women’s rights and against sexism. According to Jeremy Stangroom this makes us bullies, and people will die because of our bullying.

Bullying is bad and people do die. Crazy terrorists also drive planes into buildings. And other bad things happen. If you disagree with what someone is doing or the way they are doing it, the way to express that is to refer to one of those bad things … bullies, terrorists, perhaps even Hitler, and link the person to that bad thing. That is one way to make an argument.

But is is not a very intelligent way to do it. It’s kind of a five-year-old way to do it. I’m not sure who Jeremy Stangroom is or what he does for a living but I sure hope it does not require very much in the way of intellectual maturity and intelligence.

Oh, wait, he’s a Philosopher. He writes philosophy books. Huh. I took four graduate seminars in philosophy in graduate school, but otherwise I’ve not studied it much. I must have missed the historical and critical treatment of the “Nuh nuh nyah nuh nuh, pants of fire” school of thought.

Jeremy Stangroom@PhilosophyExp: …the bullies at FreeThought Blogs run the risk of precipitating a tragedy. Bullying ruins – and sometimes ends – lives. #bullies

Greg@Gregladen: @PhilosophyExp What do you mean by this tweet?

Jeremy Stangroom ?@PhilosophyExp: .@gregladen Taking a break from bullying people, are we? #fuckoff

Greg@Gregladen: @PhilosophyExp I’m asking you to explain your outrageous statement. Can you do that please?

Yes, I’m feeling a little cross today. I wonder why.