This Modern Life

The Three Steps of Cord Cutting

Step 1: “I’m paying $100 a month for cable. Netflix costs $8 a month, Amazon Prime $75 a year. WTH?”

Step 2: “Is it really worth $100 a month to watch football and 24-hour news?”

Step 3: “Hold up, digital rabbit ears are a thing?”

via Breitbart, noting the death-spiral of cable. Huzzah.

Or, as I noted when I underwent this process myself two years ago:

Mostly, I’m tired of paying through the nose for channels I never ever watch. The History Channel might be worth my time if I was an illiterate who needed everything explained to me real slow and then repeated. The Learning Channel has taught me nothing except that some women don’t realize when they’re heavy with child, but you can be a raging, soul-sucking, child-pimping, social climbing psycho hose beast control freak for eight seasons and the whole world will forgive you if your ex-husband puts on an Ed Hardy T-Shirt.

The pleasure are just not enough anymore. The Soup is not enough; reruns of How I Met Your Mother are not enough. Mad Men and Breaking Bad are not enough.

I’m a bit behind schedule, but I’ve finally watched all of Breaking Bad as it is.

areyouawizard

Why Chess Computers do Not Signal Skynet

An excerpted chapter from Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise is worth reading in its entirety. It deals with how Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in 1997:

Deep Blue had won. Only, it had done so less with a bang than an anticlimactic whimper. Was Kasparov simply exhausted, exacerbating his problems by playing an opening line with which he had little familiarity? Or, as the grandmaster Patrick Wolff concluded, had Kasparov thrown the game,47 to delegitimize Deep Blue’s accomplishment? Was there any significance to the fact that the line he had selected, the Caro-Kann, was a signature of Karpov, the rival whom he had so often vanquished?

But these subtleties were soon lost to the popular imagination. Machine had triumphed over man! It was like when HAL 9000 took over the spaceship. Like the moment when, exactly thirteen seconds into “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” the synthesizer overpowers the guitar riff, leaving rock and roll in its dust.48

Except it wasn’t true. Kasparov had been the victim of a large amount of human frailty—and a tiny software bug.

The bug occurred when the computer, unable to select a best move, defaulted to a random move. This move was so divorced from what looked like a sound move that Kasparov decided that Deep Blue must actually be twenty steps ahead of the game. The idea that the computer had acted in error – out of a programming bug – never occurred to him, because computers do not make mistakes. Rattled, Kasparov resigned the game.

Clarke’s Third Law applies. When a computer — a device all of us use and almost none of us understand — can beat a human at something that humans find very difficult to do, some of us begin to wonder if we really are building something too powerful to control. If any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, is any sufficiently advanced supercomputer indistinguishable from God?

Silver has his doubts:

Computers are very, very fast at making calculations. Moreover, they can be counted on to calculate faithfully—without getting tired or emotional or changing their mode of analysis in midstream.

But this does not mean that computers produce perfect forecasts, or even necessarily good ones. The acronym GIGO (“garbage in, garbage out”) sums up this problem. If you give a computer bad data, or devise a foolish set of instructions for it to analyze, it won’t spin straw into gold. Meanwhile, computers are not very good at tasks that require creativity and imagination, like devising strategies or developing theories about the way the world works.

A highly advanced machine remains a machine. It does what is programmed to do. It does not program itself.

Of course, neither do we, but consider this:

[I]t is not really “artificial” intelligence if a human designed the artifice.

Dealing with Zombie Debt

Megan McArdle, illuminating a very real issue:

Very old debts are very difficult to collect, because they disappear from credit reports after seven years, and after a state’s statute of limitation on debt collections expires, the collector can’t even sue. So these wily collectors either hope that the debtor feels bad about being a deadbeat and wants to clear his good name . . . or that he doesn’t know the law. And when hope fails, collectors frequently resort to less savory tactics such as threatening to sue (legal), threatening to have you arrested (it may be legal to make the threat, but they can’t actually make good on it) or impersonating a law enforcement officer who is going to come arrest you (very, very, very illegal).

I had this happen to me about seven years ago: some clown with a very suspicious accent demanding that I pay a debt they claimed I owed the phone company at my last apartment in Pennsylvania. I knew it was preposterous, because when I moved from Pennsylvania I made a determined effort to clear all debts that I had compiled, and even put a note in my Quicken of the “last phone bill” I paid. These fools cared not one wit: They had bought debt that had my name attached to it, they didn’t know any more about it than that, and they were going to call me and harass me over the phone until I gave in.

They did not know who they were dealing with. I told them to go ahead and sue me countless times. They called back. I dealt with them politely. They called back. I told them to perform acts physically impossible and morally heinous. They called back. What they refused to do was provide one solitary piece of evidence that I owed anybody anything.

Finally, I contacted my local Federal Trade Commission office. The gentleman there pointed me in the direction of a piece of legal boiler plate demanding validation of the debt and cessation of contact until debt was validated. I sent it via certified mail so they could not deny they had received it. The next time they called I told them I had sent that letter and would not say anything further on the phone.

A few days later I received a note from them claiming they had passed the imaginary debt on to some other set of sharpies who never contacted me.

Don’t let the bastards bully you.

Mom Claims to be Breastfeeding Her 12-Year-Old Son on ThoughtCatalog, and the Internet Fails Another Satire Test.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when an idea is so crazy that someone advocating it is pulling your leg.

I’ll admit it: when I read this paragraph…

The fact of the matter is, if it weren’t natural, I wouldn’t still produce milk, and it wouldn’t feel good to breast feed my son. Because of the sexual repression of women, there’s little information on the sexual nerve receptors in the nipple and the rest of the titty, but when a baby sucks on a woman’s breast she experiences a bit of sexual pleasure. When a man does it, she receives even more pleasure because the breast is sensitive to facial hair, and now that my son Mason is old enough to grow facial hair, our breastfeeding sessions have become even more pleasurable for me.

…my immediate response was literally this:

wtf-computer-reaction

And when I say “literally”, I mean I held my phone, on which I initially read it, an arm’s length away, saying “what even the…!”

But the last line (thankfully) gives the game away…

I’m going to keep breast feeding my son until my body decides that it’s time to stop, and I get the feeling that my body isn’t producing milk because Mason needs it, it’s producing milk because my body knows that we live in a problematic society that discourages women from letting their children suck on their boobs in public. That and I have a hormonal imbalance.

Now, I’m not entirely certain what the target of the satire is. Crunchy Uber-Breastfeedery Anti-Vaccer types, most likely, with perhaps a last snook cocked at Third Wave Feminism. But in any case, at least half the commenters don’t get it. Which is either the sign of good satire, or more evidenced that mass media and irony don’t mix.

Old Internet Article About the Metric System Nails it

Metric is useful for certain things, but Imperial is more human.

Then I start to realize that for length there is a similar problem in the metric system, in that you can’t divide a meter continuously by 2 without getting fractions. In the English system, the rulers are divided by quarters and eighths and 16ths, but the metric ruler is divided into units of ten, so any fraction of that you just have to guess. It is IMPOSSIBLE to divide a meter by three, because you get 0.333333333 etc meters; using the metric ruler, a third on a metric meter doesn’t exist! So then I start to think, hey, THAT’S why there are 12 inches in a foot, you can divide all sorts of ways, by 2, by 3, by 4, by 6, no problem! Cool!

We have this friend who is a carpenter, and I see him, and I say, “Hey, Freddie, when you have a board a meter long, how do you divide it into 3?” And he sort of gives me a funny look, and says why would he want to do that. And I say, well, “How does that work? Because in the metric system, a third of a meter isn’t marked on your ruler so what do you do? Don’t you ever have a board of one meter that you have to divide by three?” And he says, “No.” And I’m sort of crestfallen, and then he adds, we don’t buy boards by the meter, the standard lengths they sell are in 120 centimeters.

Americans are often castigated for not using the metric system. But we do. Where it’s more useful than the Imperial system. Where it isn’t, we don’t.