Category Archives: Truth and Trivia

The New Gilded Age

The Gilded Age, roughly 1870-1900, was a period where abject poverty and fabulous wealth coexisted.

Unlike today’s New Gilded Age, the original was a period of rapid economic growth. Today, wealth has been concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite by the actions of the Fed, which have inflated asset prices.

I offer as evidence:

24Karat gilded chicken wings. Serving no purpose whatsoever except ostentation. (The gold is tasteless and passes unchanged through the digestive system).

Nashville Cats

Nashville voters just rejected a $5.2 billion transit spending plan.

Why on earth would you spend that kind of money on transit, which is ill-suited to an urban sprawl like Nashville, when autonomous vehicles are about to drastically change the face of urban travel?

Quite apart from the capital investment, public transit is very expensive to operate because it depends on public employees who are granted an effective monopoly over travel in the city. So they can charge what they like – and they like a lot. Just go look at the pay and benefits for BART employees.

Yes, there are situations like New York, London and other major cities where the city simply could not function without the subway. And that’s because the subway has its own right of way that adds valuable capacity. Buses don’t do a thing except clog up the roads.

Nashville voters had their reasons and I don’t know what they were, but they have dodged a bullet by avoiding investing in yesterday’s technology – that was anyway notoriously ineffective except in providing political contributions.

Artificial Intelligence

What nonsense. Supposedly we are to cower in fear because AI robots will first of all take all our jobs and then rule us. While I don’t want to take away from the skill and expertise of the developers, the sophisticated software that is driving cars around is no more intelligent than this toaster. It can recognize properly cooked toast.

The novel technology that has enabled so-called AI in recent years is neural network based pattern recognition. Often called “deep learning,” it allows, for example, vision systems to recognize objects and audio systems to recognize speech. Powerful and useful stuff indeed, and a true breakthrough, but the resemblance to human intelligence stops there. Then the programmer must take over.

The reality of this is well explained in this article, which describes the approaches taken to win Amazon’s Alexa Prize, a $1 million competition to build a chatbot capable of carrying on a 20 minute conversation. The point is not the failure, but that the approaches taken were basically text manipulation, not understanding. Intelligence requires semantics, not just syntax.

Autopilots and flight management systems (FMS) have been safely navigating aircraft from takeoff to roll-out for years. Yes, ATC keeps them clear of traffic although they do warn of potential conflicts. The real enhancement that enables this kind of technology to be extended to the highway is the ability to recognize objects in the car’s environment. The car’s response to identified conflicts, though, has to be programmed case-by-case in the old-fashioned way.

If your work requires intelligence, you have nothing to worry about. Perhaps more breakthroughs will be made. However, Sir Roger Penrose has speculated that the brain is actually a quantum computer. In which case you probably don’t have to worry for quite a long time.

Oh Dear

Apparently President Trump has chosen Larry Kudlow as his top economic advisor. All I can say is ROFLOL.

If he wanted a TV personality, the least he could have done is choose one with brains, for example Kathleen Hays. Even Maria Bartiromo would have been a better choice. I can’t believe I wrote that, even if it is true.

Passing

Stephen Hawking died peacefully last night, aged 76. Considering that he suffered from ALS and, at age 21, he was given two years to live, not bad. His children wrote:

“We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world. He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”

See Something Say Something

Shameful

From USA Today:

An armed school deputy rushed to the Florida high school building where terrified students ran from a killer with an assault rifle, but then sat outside for about four minutes and never went inside.

The school resource deputy for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Scot Peterson, was under investigation for his response to the shooting but then decided to resign his post, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said Thursday……..

Israel said surveillance footage captured Peterson responding to the building where the shooting was unfolding. He said the deputy got there within a minute and a half of when the gunfire started. He positioned himself outside the building but never went in, Israel said.

The shooting lasted a total of six minutes. Peterson sat outside the building for four of those minutes, Israel said. In the end, 17 people were killed.

Peterson, 54, started working for the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in 1985 and since 2009 has been a school resource officer at the high school, appointed to keep the school and its students safe. In 2016, his annual salary was more than $75,600.

Apparently Peterson will be eligible for full retirement benefits. This is why government does not keep your children safe. This is why government employees do not give a damn about you or your children – there is no accountability and their pay and benefits far exceed those of the private sector.

Tragedy In Florida

I cannot help but be angered by the political response to the tragic school shooting here in Florida. “We must control guns” is the cry. This, when the shooter did just about everything he could to call attention to his plans, is beyond shameful.

This shooting was the direct result of several government agencies’s failure to do anything about a mentally ill young man who publicly threatened to do what he eventually did.

The FBI, the local police and the school were all made aware of his intentions. None of them took any notice except the school, which prohibited him from entering the campus with a bag. But this prohibition was not enforced when it mattered. It is the responsibility of these agencies to keep these children – and others – safe. The deaths of 17 schoolchildren are directly attributable to their indifference, incompetence and irresponsibility. The call for futile prohibitions on guns is a diversion to draw attention away from these government agencies’ failure to provide the security which they claim as a primary rationale for their existence, their lavish lifestyle and their tireless spying.

The individuals in these agencies who were involved should be prosecuted for at least negligent homicide. So far the only concession is that the FBI will “review its protocols.” Seriously?

The Train Stops Here

A piece on Bloomberg brought out a thought that had not occurred to me – that self-driving cars will change the nature of commuting and make it more convenient – like having the train pick you up at your front door.

That would upend real estate values, surely?

Irma In The BVI

Just returned from the BVI. Damage from hurricane Irma is severe. While many small bars and restaurants are up and running, the big resorts – Bitter End, Little Dix, Peter Island, etc. – are, literally, trash, and of course they were some of the best employers in the territory. Sadly, we saw no evidence of any attempt at reconstruction of these. Probably insurance companies taking their sweet time.

Grocery stores in Road Town – Bobby’s and RiteWay – were open and well stocked.

Anegada escaped nearly unscathed, however. We had lunch and lobster supper there, lobsters were huge, some people were served half a 4lb. lobster. The stores were open and groceries available.

We visited Foxy’s and the Soggy Dollar on Jost. Ivan’s was also open. Foxy’s Taboo was wrecked. In West End, Pusser’s was open (upstairs only) as was the cafe next door. The grocery store was closed.

We had two good meals at Pirates in the Bight. Poor Willie T. is beached. The caves, Indians, Baths, etc. were normal.

Snorkeling was good, everybody had a good time. We had a Lagoon 52 from BVI Yacht Charters, sort of like sailing an apartment building but very comfortable. No trouble getting mooring balls, but we were there on a seasonally quiet week so doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

Anyway, no reason not to go if you are so inclined.