Category Archives: Poetry

2019 BSidesLV: “AI”s Wide Open

My 2019 BSidesLV presentation on AI security will be briefly in the “I Am The Cavalry” track and then again more in-depth in the “Public Ground” track:

When: Tuesday, August 6 (14:30:14:55 and 16:00-17:55)
Where: Tuscany, Las Vegas
Cost: Free (as always!)
Event Link: BSidesLV Schedule
Title: “AIs Wide Open – Making Bots Safer Than Completely $#%cking Unsafe”

Abstract (I Am The Cavalry track):

Bladerunner was supposed to be science fiction. And yet here we are today with bots running loose beyond their intended expiration and with companies trying to hire security people to terminate them. This is 2019 and we have several well-documented cases of software flaws in automation systems causing human fatalities. Emergent human safety risks are no joke and we fast are approaching an industry where bots are capable of pivoting and transforming to perpetuate themselves (availability) with little to no accountability when it comes to human aspirations of being not killed (let alone confidentiality and integrity).

This talk will frame the issues for discussion in the Public Ground track later. Perhaps you are interested in building a framework to keep bot development pointed in the right direction (creating benefits) and making AI less prone to being a hazard to everyone around? Welcome to 2019 where we are tempted to reply “you got the wrong guy, pal” to an unexpected tap on the shoulder…before we end up on some random roof in a rainstorm with a robot trying to kill us all.

Download Presentation Slides (6MB PDF)


RIP Rutger Hauer, the actor who turned down a role as an actual Nazi to instead play a futuristic robo-supremacist leader of renegade replicants in Bladerunner. He passed away this month aged 75

“Rutger read [my] speech and then went on with a couple of lines about memories in the rain,” co-screenwriter David Webb Peoples told THR in 2017. “And then he looked at me like a naughty little boy, like he was checking to see if the writer was going to be upset. I didn’t let on that I was upset, but at the time, I was a little upset and threatened by it.

“Later, seeing the movie, that was a brilliant contribution of Rutger’s, that line about tears in the rain. It is absolutely beautiful.”

Hauer said he turned down a role in Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot (1981) to work on Blade Runner, which he noted “wasn’t about the replicants, it was about what does it mean to be human?” The late Philip K. Dick, whose novel served as the basis for the film, called the actor “the perfect Batty — cold, Aryan, flawless.”

Basically a haiku

All those moments will be – 6
Lost in time like tears in rain. – 7
Time to die. – 3

6+7+3 = 16

From Melting Pot to Tree Rings: Immigration Visualization

The history of the phrase “melting pot” is an interesting one. A “Romeo-and-Juliettesque” play by Israel Zangwill staged in 1908, generally is credited for American usage. It reflected on the life of a Russian Jewish immigrant who searches for a better life after he survived the pogroms that killed his mother and sister.

Imagery of America as a giant pot of refugees notwithstanding, my school teachers used to talk about getting a better stew from more diverse ingredients.

Ford manufacturing plants, for example, were based on immigrant descriptions of assembly lines seen in England’s shipyards during the Napoleonic Wars. Edison famously proved immigration beneficial to his own accumulation of wealth by awarding himself (instead of his country) credit for any innovation made by immigrants he had access to, requiring them to assign to him all rights to their ideas. Perhaps Edison’s first name should have been changed to Stew.

Fast forward to today and National Geographic offers us a tree visualization as alternative, which has the benefit of emphasizing the significance of concentric growth rings.

I also am reminded of “The Trees” by Philip Larkin, which the BBC posted as a visualization

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

The Oscillation Range of Human Languages

Being caught as a non-native speaker can have serious implications, like death. That probably is why a BBC article about overcoming the exact cause of accents is going to be of more than just casual interest.

Recent studies show that native speakers develop expertise with a specific oscillation range:

Every human language oscillates at a different range of frequencies, with British English fluctuating considerably between 2,000 to 12,000 Hz and French much less so between 15 to 250 Hz and 1,000 to 2,000 Hz. If French can be described as flat, English is very wavy. Russian fluctuates between an incredible 125 to 12,000 Hz. This means that some languages, like English and Russian, can go much higher and lower in pitch than say French.

There are many recent examples of risk to draw from. The BBC goes with an ancient history one to highlight why being identified by accent is so dangerous; why some work so hard to understand how to more easily jump into different ranges:

Speech has been used to segregate people for millennia. When the Tribe of Gilead defeated the Ephraimites in The Bible, they used accent as a means of identifying surviving Ephraimites trying to flee.

Anyone who claimed not to be a survivor was asked to say the Hebrew word “Shibboleth”, which means stream. People from Gilead pronounced it with a “sh” sound, whereas Ephraimites could not say “sh”, so anyone who said “Sibboleth” was killed on the spot: 42,000 people failed the test, according to the Old Testament.

Of course accent is just the beginning. Cultural meaning is another problem entirely. Take being happy, for example:

  • Chinese “Xingfu” – Sustainability and meaningfulness through sufficiency
  • Greek “Meraki” – Focused attention that achieves devoted precision to creative tasks
  • Japanese “Wabi Sabi” – Appreciation of the imperfection and complexity of reality
  • Brazilian “Saudade” – The longing for a happiness that once was or could be
  • Finnish “Kalsarikaanit” – Staying home wearing only your underwear and drinking

Karlsarikaanit

This Day in History: Nazis Invade Czechoslovakia

Radio Praha remembers this dark day in history with a post including some poetry. It begins…

Eighty years ago today, on March 15 1939, Hitler gave Czechoslovak President Emil Hácha a stark choice: accept becoming a protectorate or face destruction.

There was no choice, really, as Hácha was tortured and literally manipulated by Nazi “doctors” into signing away his country’s existence. An eye-witness (M. Coulondre, French Ambassador in Berlin, in the French Yellow Book) reported it as heart-attack and injections until the suicidal papers were signed.

President Hácha was in such a state of exhaustion that he more than once needed medical attention from the doctors, who, by the way, had been there ready for service since the beginning of the interview. […] At 4:30 in the morning, Dr. Hacha, in a state of total collapse, and kept going only by means of injections, resigned himself with death in his soul to give his signature.

Two very notable points are made in the Radio Praha post, which a reader hopefully will not miss so I’ll call them out here.

1) Chamberlain was fighting an uphill political battle in Britain to oppose Hitler’s insanity. Although in retrospect many obviously want to say Chamberlain should have been more aggressive towards Nazi Germany, at the time he had to carefully navigate through many in Britain who wanted to embrace fascism.

Six months after the Munich deal was struck, Chamberlain explained invasion of Czechoslovakia as his “I told you so” moment to allow him to declare war, instead of being an oops moment he regretted. It’s a very subtle and important distinction in the texts.

It has been suggested that this occupation of Czecho-Slovakia was the direct consequence of the visit which I paid to Germany last autumn. It is said that, as this was the personal policy of the prime minister, the blame for the fate of Czecho-Slovakia must rest upon his shoulders.

“I may remind you that, when it was first announced that I was going, not a voice was raised in criticism. Everyone applauded that effort. It was only later, when it appeared that the results of the final settlement fell short of the expectations of some who did not fully appreciate the facts-it was only then that the attack began, and even then it was not the visit, it was the terms of settlement that were disapproved.

Had Britain been more aggressively opposed to Hitler earlier there’s a good chance Hitler would have been assassinated by the Nazi military itself, but that’s tough speculation. We know General Beck said his coup plans were cooled when he thought foreign nations wouldn’t support it.

More certain is the fact Chamberlain was trying to keep pro-Hitler factions at bay in his own country. He would likely have lost control of Britain by moving faster or more decisively against Germany. Chamberlain’s cautious approach ultimately meant handing control of his party to Churchill, who earlier had more aggressively opposed fascism.

While handing control to Churchill meant Chamberlain himself took a step away from leading, his party neither lost control (as Churchill famously proved) nor did Chamberlain allow Britain to side with the Nazis as so many in Britain had hoped. That’s the political complexity and proper context for the “I may remind you” quote above.

2) A popular commentator in Prague used a form of poetry to navigate the dark veil of censorship by Nazis

Allow me to mention a non-military fact. Somewhere from afar a black crow flew over Prague. It circled above the National Museum building above the headlights and listening devices of the German army and headed down Wenceslas Square to Můstek. Perhaps the crow was surprised by the noise it had heard and the picture it saw below.

Radio Praha points out that his attempts to avoid Nazi censorship weren’t enough, however as “eventually they lost patience with František Kocourek. He was arrested by the Gestapo and would later die like so many others in Auschwitz-Birkenau.”

Nterini – Fatoumata Diawara

In a story that I’m almost certain nobody has read (based on everyone I have asked about it)…hundreds of thousands of letters that were seized by British warships centuries ago, now are getting digitized for analysis by the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities.

Somewhere in the U.K. National Archives in London, there are 4,000 boxes containing more than 160,000 undelivered letters from ships captured by the British during the naval wars of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Now those letters — some of which are bundled in old mail bags and affixed with wax seals that have never been broken — are about to go online.

[…]

The mail, sent mostly between 1652 and 1815, is written in 19 different languages and contains songs, notebooks, packages and personal correspondence.

[…]

Many of the letters are made inherently tragic by having never reached their destination.

A series of four letters from a Madam Dupont in Quebec between 1702 and 1703 show a woman frantically trying to reach her husband, who is away on business in France, and growing increasingly despondent by his lack of response.

“These letters are full of the hazards of the flu epidemic and chicken pox in Quebec and her tone gets more and more desperate, because she doesn’t get any sign of life from her husband,” Freist said.

“She feels utterly neglected and resented and finally decides not to write anymore. In the letter she says: ‘You can’t love me anymore if you don’t answer. I will now stop writing. I give up.’ But then she writes again and she implores her husband once again to come back.”

No word yet on why the German Prize Papers Project is leading the effort for a British archive.

I almost feel like this is the German way of trying to prove again how terrible the British Empire was for global humanity.

Speaking of letters of humanity, and of messages sent but never received…the Fatoumata Diawara video Interini about migration is a must watch/listen:

Lyrics:

Cette chanson parle de la souffrance que la distance inflige aux amoureux. Mon amour et mon confident est parti loin et ne me donne pas signe de vie. Je l’aime malgré tout et il me manque nuit et jour. J’aimerai avoir des nouvelles de mon chéri, sinon je n’arrive pas à dormir.

Mon amour est parti loin
Et ne va peut-être plus revenir
Mon chéri est parti loin de la famille
Et ne reviendra peut-être plus
Il était mon ami, mon confident, comment va t-il?
Je veux juste savoir si tu vas bien?
Il est parti dans une contrée lointaine
Il me manque beaucoup
Toi qui as toujours été mon guide
Je t’aime de tout mon cœur

Mon amour a pris son envol
Qui sait quand est-ce qu’il va revenir?
Dites-moi, mon chéri est parti loin
Et ne va peut-être plus revenir

Il est parti s’installer dans un pays lointain
Et ne m’a rien dit
Ce n’était pas le temps du matin qui m’empêchait de le voir
Ni la chaleur de la journée

This song speaks of the suffering that distance inflicts on lovers. My love and my confidant have gone away and do not give me any sign of life. I love him despite everything and he misses me night and day. I would like to hear from my darling, otherwise I can not sleep.

My love is gone away
And maybe not coming back
My darling left the family
And may not come back again
He was my friend, my confidant, how is he?
I just want to know if you’re fine?
He left for a distant country
I miss him a lot
You who have always been my guide
I love you with all my heart

My love took flight
Who knows when will he come back?
Tell me, my darling is gone away
And maybe not going back

He moved to a distant country
And did not tell me
It was not the morning time that prevented me from seeing him
Neither the heat of the day

They Shall Not Grow Old: Color and Dub Revives WWI Footage

When you watch the footage from this new film, based on old footage, you should ponder if adding color and voices give it more impact as an educational tool:

All school children in the UK now are expected to watch it. The title comes from Binyon’s 21 September 1914 poem “For the Fallen

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

His words were meant to capture the tone after an August 1914 outbreak of war, where the German Army invaded Luxembourg and Belgium on the “Western Front”. British commitments to uphold Belgian neutrality (as well as Anglo-French naval agreement of 1912) led it to declare war in response and send forces into France.

Some have pointed out England’s response was very unlike their entry into Napoleonic wars where England delayed until 1803 coming to the aid of other nations. However, this provocative thinking is ignorant of history, as Britain faced a very different geo-political situation with the German invasion. Napoleon initially presented the opposite scenario, as his seizure of power within France came with an offering to stabilize and end hostility, given the “1801 Peace of Amiens“.

The treaty was welcomed with such enthusiasm by the British public that on returning to London with Bonaparte’s ratification of the preliminaries the First Consul’s ADC, Lauriston, was welcomed by a huge crowd that unhitched the horses and pulled his carriage through the streets shouting ‘Vive Bonaparte!’. […] “In less than two and a half years that is from 18 Brumaire (9 November, 1799) to 25 March, 1802, the date of the Peace of Amiens, France passed from the debasement into which the Directory had plunged her, to the foremost rank in Europe.”

That moment of celebration and hope for peaceful trade definitely was not the situation a year later, when Britain suddenly realized in 1803 they faced complete loss of economic control (Napoleon stated England deserved no voice in global affairs). Germany in 1914, like France in 1803, was threatening Britain’s empire. Delay didn’t seem to be a real option in 1914, given early attempts at German defeat (no matter how unlikely) could avoid another protracted decade-long Napoleonic war situation (1803–1815).

The 1914 German attack threatened stability and safety across Europe and beyond as it violently pushed all the way into France reaching the eastern Paris outskirts. From September 6th to the 10th, six French armies and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) counter-attacked along the Marne River and defeated the German Army, forcing retreat northwest.

On 9 September Bülow learned that the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was advancing into the gap between his 2nd Army and Kluck. He ordered a retreat, obliging Kluck to do the same. The counterattack of the French 5th and 6th Armies and the BEF developed into the First Battle of the Marne, a general counter-attack by the French Army. By 11 September the Germans were in full retreat.

This remarkable change in fortunes was caused partially by the exhaustion of many of the German forces: some had marched more than 240km (150 miles), fighting frequently. The German advance was also hampered by demolished bridges and railways, constricting their supply lines, and they had underestimated the resilience of the French.

France suffered approximately 250,000 casualties in this battle as German forces desperately tried to take Paris. Germany refused to acknowledge their losses. And BEF casualties were recorded as 12,733. Perhaps most significantly, BEF losses signaled the significance of an allied front against German aggression. Some still debate had the BEF and French armies gone further, whether they could have ended German campaigns early and entirely.

A battle in September 1914 thus is considered one of the most important in WWI history, as German retreat at Paris destroyed the “Schlieffen Plan”; quick victory in the West was meant to allow focus on attacking Russia. Instead, Germany was forced to dig in for a protracted war on two fronts. Despite being able to regroup after this battle, ultimately German defeat four years later meant nearly 3 million of its own people killed.

“They Shall Not Grow Old”, named after a September 1914 poem, commemorates in new ways how the British decided to act early and decisively in response to German aggression, saving France and Russia from occupation.

An original written copy of “For the Fallen” has been digitized by the British Library.

‘FOR THE FALLEN’: autograph copy of poem by Robert Laurence Binyon, C.H., made for presentation to the Museum; 1938. First published in The Times, 21 Sept. 1914, and in book form in The Winnowing-Fan, 1914, pp. 28, 29.

Now, as you just read it, did you ponder whether adding color would help? Is that ink black or blue? What is the true shade of the paper?

هواجيس – Worries

Nearly 24 million views of this Majed al-Esa (Saudi production company 8ies Studios) high-budget music video (remake of the 2014 low-budget production) based on an old Bedouin folk song (حظي عجاجه), and still I haven’t seen a translation to English that captures the lyricism.

I realize now it has a been such a long while since I was translating Amr Diab, I am overdue. So without further ado…

جعل الرجاجيل للماحي May men turn into old stone
جعل الرجاجيل للماحي May men turn into old stone
حطوا بنا امراض نفسية They are driving us crazy
حطوا بنا امراض نفسية They are driving us crazy
ياعل مافيهم الصاحي Too insane to get it
ياعل مافيهم الصاحي Too insane to get it
كل واحد فيه جنية What a bunch of fairies
كل واحد فيه جنية What a bunch of fairies
حظي My luck
حظي My luck
حظي عجاجة My luck will blow them away
والحبايب قراطيس Like empty paper bags
حظي عجاجة My luck will blow them away
والحبايب قراطيس Like empty paper bags
من يمسك القرطاس وقت العجاجة Who holds empty paper bags in a storm
ومن يمسك القرطاس وقت العجاجة Who holds empty paper bags in a storm