Machine Learning – Thinking Inside the Box


GO is an ancient strategy game that is very popular in Asia. On the surface it is very simple. It’s played on a grid players take turns placing pebble-like pieces at the intersections of the grid lines. The object is to completely surround the opponents pieces so they have nowhere to move. It sounds easy but it is definitely not. Game theorists rate GO as at least 3 times more complex than Chess. Someone calculated that there are more possible moves in GO than all of the atoms in the universe.

google-deepmind-868551Recently we’ve seen how A.I.s (Artifiicial Intelligence) have been beating Chessmasters and Jeopardy champions. The technique used is called deep learning. Instead of teaching the A.I. how to play Chess by explicitly programming in strategies, with deep learning you give the machine the basic rules and then let it “watch” many games. The A.I. learns much as children do, through observation and experimentation. This technique has yielded ever improving results such as those mentioned earlier. Last year an A.I. from Google called AlphaGo roundly defeated  GO master Lee Sodol using this technique.

Watching EyeDeep learning can also yield surprises. Some years ago a gent I know named Jeff Pepper was working on a project for The Carnegie Group, the commercial arm of Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics/A.I labs. It was a DARPA project for a targeting system for an autonomous cruise missile. The idea was to have the missile (think drone today) loiter in an area and identify targets. They started by using an early type of A.I. called a neural network. They fed it pictures with and without tanks, they’d tell it whether it had correctly identified pics with a tank. As expected it quickly went from no better than random  guessing to 100% accuracy. They take the system into the field and turn it on and it sees tanks everywhere. They’re trying to debug it, but everything looks OK. Finally some smart human realizes that the pictures with tanks were all taken on a sunny day and that the A.I. wasn’t saying “There’s a tank!”, it was saying “It’s a sunny day!”.

The moral of the study is that the programmers had no idea what the A.I. was “thinking”. Fast forward to today. Google has been working on the next generation of AlphaGo, AlphaGo Zero. Unlike it’s predecessor  AlphaGo Zero started from, well zero. It wasn’t seeded with the basic rules, it learned by hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxyplaying against the original A.I. At first it lost miserably. Again over time it got better and could consistently beat it’s big brother. What is interesting here is that when human researchers played the games back they found that Zero was playing a completely unorthodox style. To human observers many moves made no sense, yet they produced the desired results. Recently machine learning as been applied to writing software. Soon we’ll first generation software that’s already “smarter” than us writing software that is smarter still. What does the future hold? A utopia where super-intelligent A.I. fulfills our needs and wishes before they even occur to us? Or a dystopian future where our machine overlords rule with an iron fist. Maybe we could ask an A.I. that question. Unfortunately the answer will probably be “42“.



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Harvey couldn’t have come at a better time

Whoa! Hear me out. I served in the Michigan National Guard. One of my unit’s primary duties was disaster relief. I understand the horrors of this disaster more than most. It was going to happen and will happen again. And the timing may be good.

First off we’re doing a good job of handling this so far. I’m surprised that no one has remarked on the fact that we only have around a dozen confirmed deaths. Surely this toll will increase, maybe catastrophically, but we’re nearly a week into this  disaster. By this point in Katrina bodies were literally washing up in the streets. Although it is early, it looks like FEMA and it’s new director William “Brock” Long are performing very well. If the timing we’re different this could be much worse. Imagine if Michael ‘Brownie’ Brown’s FEMA were in charge. This is a much worse event than Katrina. I don’t even want to think about it.

To my point though, I think this is a teaching moment about the best of humanity and America at a time when our worst has been in the forefront. Compare the images of Charlottesville with the images of Harvey. A starker contrast couldn’t be imagined. I was particularly struck by the ‘Cajun Navy’ phenomenon. They’re the kind of people who some would dismiss as hillbillies who like huntin’ and fishinin’ and think Duck Dynasty is a guide to philosophy. These folks pored out in droves to save their brothers and sisters. Good on ya.

I’m a child of the sixties. I used to love the tv show ‘The Outer Limits”. I’m reminded of the episode “Torture” where a group of soldiers in an interplanetary war are tortured by wicked aliens. In the end it turns out the war is a cruel, cynical hoax to unite man against a common enemy.

Harvey is no hoax, although I’m sure it will spawn at least one conspiracy theory to that effect. There could never be a good time for such a disaster. But the timing could help turn the tide on a very dangerous trend.

It’s also a good time to point you to the fantastic live performance of Caravan Of Love by the always outstanding crew at Live At Daryl’s House. A song I’ll repost till we get world peace.

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My Detroit Renaissance – Part1, Downtown

In July 2016 I faced a choice, Dallas or Detroit. I moved to Dallas from Detroit over 20 years ago for good opportunities. After 15 years of flourishing in Dallas, I endured over 5 years of flounder. I ended up choosing the latter, so far it’s been a good decision.

Detroit Michigan skyline reflections

Detroit Michigan skyline reflections

Dallas and Detroit are mirror images. Dallas has a mediocre (at best) Downtown surrounded by great neighborhoods. Dallas has a great Downtown surrounded by mediocre (at best)neighborhoods. Downtown Dallas is a business district with glass towers, and a virtually non-existent social life, frankly it lacks heart. In contrast, Downtown Detroit has a vibrant beating heart. There is a sense of community that is hard to put into words, but I can illustrate it with a few examples.

AR-140809985Every day at lunch when I walk out of my office, within a hundred feet of the doorstep, I emerge into a public courtyard filled with 3 basketball hoops, food vans, and concert stages, all free. 100 feet to my right is a public space where anyone can play basketball, ping-pong, bache ball, volleyball, horsehoes all free of charge. My favorite part of the day is stepping out for lunch and deciding, do I want to check out the free concert 75 feet from the door, or walk down a block and catch the other free concert? “EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!”. Absolutely unimaginable in Dallas.

Comerica-Park_T1 Dallas has the West End. A collection of Hooters, Rock Hard Cafes and the like, that are not particularly accessible by foot. Nearby is the American Airlines Center where the Mavericks, Stars and all major concerts are hosted. Also not that accessible by foot. Detroit has the brand new Tiger Stadium and Ford Field(Lions). The Red Wings play at the venerable Joe Louis Arena. All within enjoyable walking distance. Donald Trump just filled the famous Cobo Hall. Just down Woodward is the world renowned Fox Theatre, where you could have seen Stevie Wonder in 1965 or fifty years later last year. Much of Eminem’s film 8Mile was shot in the basement of St. Andrew’s Hall, the venue that Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop called home. Detroit native Jack White of White Stripes fame just helped save historic Masonic Hall (While simultaneously playing the first vinyl album in space).

Dallasites regularly drive hours to Oklahoma to go to the Casinos. Not my thing but if I wanted to I could walk 3 blocks to the Greektown Casino, or drive 5 minutes to the MGM Grand,

Frankly Downtown Detroit makes Downtown Dallas look sick.

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Selection Bias – How To Be A Good Skeptic

blue-angels-delta-marinesI almost made a fool of myself again. One of my jobs is to write local interest stories. I select a city where we have an office (objective criteria) and then select a topic based on my interest (subjective criteria).  I picked Pensacola based on the fact that we hadn’t done a post there for months. I immediately latched onto the Blue Angels because of  my interest in military aviation.

Then I screwed up.

blue-angels-c130-flybyI try to focus on the untold story. One of the untold stories about the Blue Angels is that the steely eyed fighter pilots who perform amazing aerobatics are only part of the story. Of the 120 or so Blue Angels only 7 of them are the pilots who perform for the masses. Most are maintenance specialists, logistical support and medical support. I wrote my article and then started looking for images. I came across the usual beautiful images of F-18s in tight formation, then I found one of Marines saluting the c-130 transport aircraft that do the heavy lifting. GREAT !!!

blue-angels-b2-bob-denhaanThen I came across a pic of several stealth bombers flying in formation in the distinctive colors of the Blue Angels. BINGO !!! Except I was wrong. The “Blues” are a Navy and Marine unit, the B2 is flown by the Air Force. The picture in question was a (beautiful) photoshopped fake. If I had published my original article I would have gotten a lot of hate mail and rightly so.

My selection bias led me down the wrong path. But I was saved by a habit that every skeptic should employ. The more you have that BINGO moment, the more you should investigate the facts. 1 minute of research told me I was wrong. If you have the impulse to jump on something, look before you leap.

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Integrity – Socrates, Jesus and the bitter cup

Socrates and Jesus had something in common. They told the truth and it got them killed. They spoke truths that no one wanted to hear and were sentenced to death as a result. But there is a difference in how they faced their deaths. It may be that Socrates was braver than Jesus. When the moment of their execution was upon them they behaved very differently. Most people know the story from the bible where Jesus is on the cross and asks “Why Me ?”.

He beseeches his heavenly father to lift the yoke, to spare him the “Bitter Cup”. But his prayer goes unanswered and in the end he must pay the ultimate price for the sin of telling the truth.

Most people don’t know the story of Socrates final night. Like Jesus he had been sentenced to die for speaking truth to those in power. On that night Socrates sat in his cell considering his fate. Suddenly his faithful student, Plato, climbs to his window. He offers his teacher a chance to escape. Socrates refuses, and spends the night giving his final lesson, much of it on the role of the citizen and personal integrity. He tells Plato that he broke the law, and even though that law was unjust, as a citizen and more importantly as a man of integrity he had to drink the hemlock.

Who was braver ? It’s hard to say. Jesus was tortured, and a person under torture will say anything to end the pain. Socrates was in “comfort” and his death would be quick and rather merciful. Yet martyrdom is revered as one of the greatest human virtues. Who was braver, Socrates or Jesus I honestly don’t know.

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A Libertarian Approach To Segregated Clubs

I often come across strident discussions on the subject of whites only or blacks only private clubs and businesses. I hate it. But as a libertarian I accept it. But if you’re a libertarian you should consider the following.

You can have your blacks/whites club only under the following conditions. You run it on your own electricity, water, internet etc. Otherwise you should pay a tax/surcharge based on the the percentage of people you exclude.

We ALL pay taxes. As a consequence the laws concerning public accommodations apply. I propose that you can have your segregated club as long as you pay for it without the support of the group(s) you exclude.

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Waste Not Want Not

Many years ago one of my college professors said something that struck me like a lightning bolt… “Pollution is waste”


He went on to explain that he meant this in two ways. Obviously pollution is waste, in the same sense that feces is waste. But more profoundly, pollution is waste in the sense that is it wasted stuff. Stuff that is potentially usable but thrown away and wasted. For example feces can be harvested and used to produce fertilizer for farming.

This is how nature works. In some sense the Earth is a closed system (Not really, because of the Sun). All of the water on Earth has been recycled over and over. You’re probably drinking the same water that Jesus drank, excreted, and walked on. Plants consume CO2 and water then use sunlight to produce chemical energy, Oxygen is the ‘waste’ product. Animals consume this oxygen and eat plants to produce chemical energy, their ‘waste’ product is C02 which is consumed by plants and so on. One creatures trash is another’s treasure.

As a child I was given a generator for my bicycle. It had a wheel that pressed against the sidewall of the front tire. As you pumped your legs and moved the bike, the wheel of the generator spun and produced energy that powered the light on the bicycle. Viola !! Battery free light. Later when going through a revolving door I realized this same approach could be applied  to a building. Generators installed in doors could collect electricity.


Recently a remarkable innovation has applied this idea to sports. Energy giant Shell has teamed with soccer legend Pele to create a self powered soccer field. The technology uses a property of crystals to create electricity. It is called the piezoelectric effect. When certain crystals are compressed they give off electricity. As the players run back forth their kinetic energy is converted to lights for the field. Another inventor has created a piezoelectric soccer ball.

Several other examples using things like waste heat from factories and by-products from industrial processes are a fascinating trend in the realm of sustainable technologies. Stayed tuned I think this could be a very important development.

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Who Is OODaddy ?

What can I say about ooDaddy ? Well my real name is Mark Jefferson, but ooDaddy (Pronounced Double O Daddy) is the nom de voyage I picked while playing video games with my son and his crew. I think it fits. Having grown up in the 60’s James Bond was one of my heroes, and alongside my other idols Muhammad Ali and my Dad, Bond helped define what masculinity was about for me. The toughest, smartest, best dressed man in the room. Every woman wanted to be with him, and every man wanted to BE him.

Over the years these influences instilled a love of adventure and competition. It moved me to do things like learn judo, boxing and fencing. Then eventually to serve in the military. The best (and worst) times of my life were in the US Army. Everything from highs like helping deliver babies and saving a man’s life, to lows like having to perform mouth to mouth on a dead guy.

During my time in the army I was exposed to computers and taught myself programming and databases. At the time in the 90s they were so desperate for developers you could get in without a degree, so I got started. I did well, moving into advanced systems and telecom. Here I was first recruited as a Sales Engineer AKA an SE.

This was where I was first introduced to the life of a corporate samurai. Like the Japanese warriors of old we swore fealty to our Daimyo(VP or Manager) and to our Shogun(CEO). We would get on our trusty mounts (trains, planes and rented automobiles) and we would do battle with other samurai on the field of battle (the boardroom), using our katana (laptop and PowerPoint). I ended up focusing on security and sold to customers like The Office Of The Joint Chiefs, Boeing and drone maker Elbit systems.

I got to travel all over the US and the globe. Because I was involved in the security business and constantly jetting off at the last minute to meet with folks like the Air Force Space Command and the Naval Space Warfare Systems some of my family and friends thought I was a spy. In one two week period I did Vegas, San Francisco and Honolulu. It was a pretty glamorous lifestyle. Unfortunately my Shogun fell. It was 2008 and the company I was with (Oblix) went through a massive downsizing and eventually sold out to Oracle. I was laid off, and managed to land another job, but when that company was sold off I was out in the cold, without a degree in a highly specialized field, during the worst economy in generations. Needless to say, corporate employment has been hard to find.

So now I’m a Ronin, a samurai without a master. I have begun a career as a freelance writer, software developer and trainer, with a focus on Android. I’m putting several irons in the fire, hopefully they will produce fine steel.

Update: ooDaddy is back in the game! Got a great gig as a mortgage Banker at Quicken loans. It’s harder to hit the banking floor at Quicken(%6)  than to get into Harvard(8%).

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The Kids Are Alright (re: Music)

I’m getting old. One thing that happens when you get old is you start to say things like “This new music sucks !!! Back in my day ,,,,blah, blah, blah)”. I was a Pandora fan and I recently noticed that much of the music I like was being played on Oldie’s channels/stations. I decided to rectify the situation and got on Spotify to look for new music. As a result I’ve come across some stuff I really liked. Here is some of my favorite music from 2014 and my thoughts on said music.

Own It !!!
I hate mean words. There are two words in particular that I loathe, b*tch and n*gger. There’s an argument that people can use these words in protest. That they should own these words, These songs own it in a profound, fun-loving way:

We In This Bitch by Iggy Azalea
Anyway by DJ Carisma

Twangy Songs
I’ve always loved the guitar. I generally hate country and rap music because they are so generic. I see things as a Bell curve. 5% is crap, 5% is great, the rest is mediocre. I discovered the 5% of good country music through my love of swing music and the guitar. I accidentally came across Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and the rest was history. Check these out:

Half Crazy by the Barr Brothers

American Religious by Caroline Rose

Silly Love Songs
I HATE love songs. “The sky is blue, I luv you, blah blah blah …..”. I once put together a mix tape I called “Love Songs Bitter and Sweet” it featured many songs by the great Joe Jackson (Is She Really Going Out With Him, Fools In Love, Happy Loving Couples). A personal note, I’m madly in love with a 20 something, Oh no, not that again. Give these a listen:

Rumble by Kelis
Bloodsport by Raleigh Richie
Jealous by Labrinth

Pop Music. I REALLY REALLY hate pop music. If it gets on the ray-dio I probably won’t even listen once. These songs were in general distribution and I enjoyed them. Nick Jonas is a Disney pop guy, Snoop is a media whore (hate that word), but I liked these songs.

Jealous by Nick Jonas (Great Intro/hook followed by average pop music)
Stuck on a Feeling by Prince Royce and Snoop Dogg

My Personal Theme Music
Remember the old TeeVee show Allie McBee ? One thing I liked about it was the idea of a personal theme song. Mine used to be Magic Carpet Ride, I did alot of biz in Nawlens (New Orleans to the rest of you). I got to know a DJ/Band Frontman at a club. Everytime I walked in he would stop the current song and shout “MJ in the house” and play MCR. The other was James Brown’s Sex Machine. Here are my current theme songs:

Uptown Funk (Don’t Believe Me Just Watch) by Mark Rosen
Lazaretto by Jack White
Dare You 2 Move by Destructo (Also a great dance track)

My favorite song of the year
This song is a bittersweet love song set to haunting music.

Jealous By Labrinth

Enjoy !!!!!

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Race, IQ and Evolution

The intersection of Race, IQ and Evolution is a difficult topic. The very definition of race is hotly debated. Nobel laureate Thomas Watson was one of the discoverers of DNA’s structure. Recently he had to sell his medal because he dared to say out loud there is evidence that Africans have a lower IQ than Europeans. He lost most of his funding and is/was broke.

Most people don’t understand evolution. Darwinian evolution is about the diversity of species. Darwin postulated that in a given environment, a certain mix of traits will give you a better or worse chance to survive long enough to pass on your genes. These traits, such as skin color or the ability to do math are the expression of a certain genetic makeup. Whether a certain trait helps you survive and reproduce is constrained or enhanced by a selector.

Darwin described evolution by natural selection. Consider sunlight, sunlight can cause skin cancer, so in a sunny environment the ability to produce melanin, as expressed by having dark skin gives an overall benefit. Sunlight is also important in the production of Vitamin D. In environments with low sunlight, having lighter skin gives an advantage because you absorb more sunlight and produce more Vitamin D. Which is better ? It all depends on how much sunlight is in your environment.

I recently had a discussion with a friend. She was focused on breeding, and the whole “Black athletes are ‘better’ because of slave breeding” meme. Breeding is a form of selection. It’s not natural selection, it’s human selection. Whether it’s the dog breeder or the slave master a human is selecting for certain traits. The problem is that we’re not smart enough to figure out the right traits in the long term. Take Labrador retrievers, amazing dogs, smart, good language ability, fast, good swimmers etc. But when over-bred they have hip trouble or cancer and die young.

Consider 3 traits, IQ score as measured by the ability to do math and logic. Fertility as measured by the ability to breed, and survivability as measured by the effectiveness of your immune system. Which is better ? It all depends. Let’s assume the following. Europeans score higher on IQ tests, but low on fertility,  Asians score higher than Europeans on IQ tests and fertility but are more susceptible to disease. Africans score lower on IQ tests but higher on survivabilty and fertility. Which trait is better ? It all depends. Look at Europe, those countries have negative population growth and in the long term could “die out”.

The most successful populations have a mix, because shit happens. Being good at math or being fertile might not help you survive a global pandemic, having a good immune system might not help you succeed in a capitalist economic system.

I believe that the key to the long term survival of the human race is hybrids. If you’ve known me a while you remember Theo the wonderdog. All kinds of great traits and he lived to 17 without hip trouble or cancer. He was a Lab/Shepard mix. There is emerging evidence that ‘mixed race’ kids are bigger, smarter and healthier than ‘pure race’ kids. I predict that the next big change in our environment could make the ability to do math and science less important. I think the emergence of global pandemics, the loss of fertility or the emergence of Artificial intelligence could all radically change which traits are most useful.

Think about it.

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