Monday, December 11, 2017

The Michelangelo of Microsoft Excel

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h/t Daring Fireball

It had never previously occurred to me that Excel's drawing tools could be used for actual art and not just business graphics. I'm impressed.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Naked Security: Google AI teaches itself ‘superhuman’ chess skills in four hours

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Google AI teaches itself ‘superhuman’ chess skills in four hours
by Lisa Vaas,

Human chess grandmaster Peter Heine Nielsen tells the BBC that he’s “always wondered how it would be if a superior species landed on earth and showed us how they played chess.”

Well, move aside, ugly, giant bags of mostly water: now we know, because Google’s “superhuman” AlphaZero artificial intelligence (AI) taught itself chess from scratch in four hours. Then, it wiped the floor with the former world-leading chess software, Stockfish 8.
From the paper, whose authors include DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis: a child chess prodigy who reached the rank of chess master at the age of 13:

Starting from random play, and given no domain knowledge except the game rules, AlphaZero achieved within 24 hours a superhuman level of play in the games of chess and shogi [a similar Japanese board game] as well as Go, and convincingly defeated a world-champion program in each case.

A very impressive achievement. A huge leap forward in the field of machine learning.

Is it actually intelligent? I suppose that's going to depend greatly on how you define the word.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Business Insider: Scott Adams explains Trump's persuasion style

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The creator of Dilbert explains Trump's persuasion style and reminds us why people stopped caring about facts
Scott Adams. Nov. 1, 2017, 12:19 PM

  • In this excerpt from "Win Bigly," Dilbert creator Scott Adams says both he and Trump use the same method of persuasion.
  • The method involves making claims that contain exaggerations or factual errors.
  • Adams credits the method with raising his own profile ahead of the 2016 US presidential election — and with Trump's election win.
  • Adams says he doesn't prefer to ignore facts.
  • It's just that a "Master Persuader" can do it and still come out on top.

A great article by Scott Adams explaining an interesting technique in the art of persuasion that Trump appears to use to great success. After reading this, you may still hate what he has to say, but you will also be fascinated to discover what he's really doing and how well he's doing it even after you know the trick.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Firefox 57 is out, and you need new add-ons

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Yesterday, the Mozilla people released Firefox version 57. And with it, they have removed the old "XUL" based add-on system. So all add-ons must now use the new WebExtension API. Unfortunately, many add-ons (including a lot that I use) have not been updated yet, despite Firefox issuing warnings for the last several revisions. In many cases, the authors have abandoned the code, and in others, I don't think they care enough to want to re-implement it for the new API.

The result is that I've had to remove and replace many of my favorite add-ons. Here's a list of what I had to change and what I think of the results.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Facebook knows all and sees all

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Well, maybe not all, but it sometimes seems pretty darn close. I haven't been a fan of Facebook for a long time, mostly because I don't like how their policies capriciously do things to aggravate users without warning or explanation. But the more I read the more I congratulate myself for suspending my account back in 2010. The thing that really annoys me these days is their censorship of content it finds objectionable, which includes content that is pro-Christian, pro-Israel, or otherwise politically conservative.

But, although very relevant news these days, that is not what I'm writing about today. Today's article is just to share a few links describing how far Facebook's data mining goes in order to build profiles on people for the purpose of targeting ads.

It is known that they maintain a "shadow profile" (a term they don't use and don't like to hear) on all their users. They track not only the contacts you've uploaded and the content you post/view/like, but they also tie it to the profile (contacts, content, etc.) of all your friends. And also people they think might be your friends - any other user who uploaded a contacts list with you in it is fair game here as well. Then they tie it to "web beacons" on sites all over the Internet to track what sites you visit, what you're searching/shopping for and what you purchase, including the browsing/shopping habits of everybody associated with you (including your friends and people they think might want to be friends). And then they tie it in with GPS location monitoring if you have granted access to the FB app/web site in order to discover where you shop, when you're traveling, and what events you are attending. And of course, the content of any text, photos and video you (or your contacts, friends or possible-friends) share via Facebook Messenger, What's App or Instagram also contributes to this profile.

There have even been accusations of them going so far as to listen in via your phone's microphone in order to target ads based on things you say, but Facebook explicitly denies this charge (everything above has pretty much been confirmed - Facebook doesn't deny any of it, they just don't like to talk about it a lot).

None of it should come as much of a surprise, but it looks pretty shocking when it's all piled together in one paragraph.


h/t to the Michael Tsai blog for the link that caught my attention this morning.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Business Insider: We put the iPhone X's Face ID to the ultimate test with identical twins — and the results surprised us

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We put the iPhone X's Face ID to the ultimate test with identical twins — and the results surprised us
Emmanuel Ocbazghi, October 31, 2017

Business Insider got an exclusive look at the iPhone X, and, naturally, we tried to beat its facial-recognition feature by having one twin register his face and the other try to break in.

A very impressive test. The phone was able to tell the registered owner from his identical twin. And, as promised, a hat, scarf and sunglasses did not change a thing.

Click through to watch the video.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Daily WTF: News Roundup: EquiTF

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News Roundup: EquiTF
by Remy Porter in News Roundup on 2017-09-28

We generally don’t do news roundups when yet another major company gets hacked and leaks personally compromising data about the public. We know that “big company hacked” isn’t news, it’s a Tuesday. So the Equifax hack didn’t seem like something worth spending any time to write an article about.

But then new things kept coming out. It got worse. And worse. And worse. It’s like if a dumpster caught on fire, but then the fire itself also caught on fire.

Wow! What a total mess! Getting hacked to death is bad enough, but not installing patches for known security vulnerabilities (even after having been hacked once before), hiding the hack from the press, and then dumping stock just before it becomes public borders on being criminally insane.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Dry Bones: Left and Right

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Left and Right
Yaakov Kirschen. Thursday, August 24, 2017

A really close friend from America was visiting us and saw this cartoon. He's politically savvy, sharp, and intelligent, but his reaction to the cartoon shocked me. He was unaware of the antisemitism of the left. He'd never heard of the violent antifa movement, and he was ignorant of the antisemitism of the Black Lives Matter organization. Most of his information comes from Main Stream Media and he's been guided by the politically correct stance of American Jewish groups.

I took the opportunity to sell him a copy of my brand-new Dry Bones anthology "Dry Bones Cartoons Fight Back." That led me to think that maybe I should be selling YOU a copy(either for you or for you to pass on to a similarly uninformed friend).

The book is on sale at Amazon where, in addition to the (over sized) anthology there's a Kindle copy (and a bookshelf of other Dry Bones books). And if you buy a copy PLEASE leave a review. It would be really helpful.

I normally don't like to repost someone's entire blog post, since I don't want to take traffic away from their site, but I think Mr. Kirschen's text makes an extremely important point. I'm including his plug for his new book in the hope that those people who don't click through to the original article will at least have an opportunity to support the author by buying one or more of his books.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

ZDNet: AccuWeather caught sending user location data, even when location sharing is off

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AccuWeather caught sending user location data, even when location sharing is off
By Zack Whittaker for Zero Day.

Popular weather app AccuWeather has been caught sending geolocation data to a third-party data monetization firm, even when the user has switched off location sharing.

AccuWeather is one of the most popular weather apps in Apple's app store, with a near perfect four-star rating and millions of downloads to its name. But what the app doesn't say is that it sends sensitive data to a firm designed to monetize user locations without users' explicit permission.

Security researcher Will Strafach intercepted the traffic from an iPhone running the latest version of AccuWeather and its servers and found that even when the app didn't have permission to access the device's precise location, the app would send the Wi-Fi router name and its unique MAC address to the servers of data monetization firm Reveal Mobile every few hours. That data can be correlated with public data to reveal an approximate location of a user's device.

We independently verified the findings, and were able to geolocate an AccuWeather-running iPhone in our New York office within just a few meters, using nothing more than the Wi-Fi router's MAC address and public data.

Shameful. I really like the AccuWeather app, but after reading this, it's gone. I'll be looking for some other app to get my weather reports now.