Friday, 14 January 2022

TRUMP: DICTATOR-in-waiting

Trumptler, part 2. Vector file from pixabay, flags from wikipedia.

Ruthless, seized the moment, cartoony looks, bucks to burn, 75m rock-hard base, cowed Republican party, grabs the spotlight, has an armed militia* ready-to-shoot. Trump checks all the boxes.

Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini were all of the above in spades, Trump fits the mold. A joke when he ran in 2015, now we're dead-scared he might be coronated in 2024. His pal, Viktor Orban,**** Hungary's dictator-in-chief, is rootin' for him.

A weak Dem opposition is ominous. Serious people have written serious books*** warning US about a Trump authoritarian presidency. “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce”, Karl Marx. 

Ha, Ha. Stay tuned.

* Oath Keepers**, Proud boys.

** Founder of OKs, Stewart Rhodes, and 11 members have been indicted for sedition against the US.

*** Tucker Carlson (Fox news' "most-watched cable-news commentator") broadcast from Hungary. He met Orban and reported Hungarians were freer than Americans.

*** PERIL, Robert Woodward and Bob Acosta
 
*** How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsy & Daniel Zitbat

Sources:  The Economist, Financial Times, Washington Post

Next week: NON FUNGIBLE TOKENs: cool TOOL or rad FAD 




Note: I thought about what to add, but there really is not much. We live in the weirdest of times.

CU
--
Eki

Wednesday, 29 December 2021

Gettin' OLD ain't easy

Gettin' Old Ain't Easy
written by Maggy Fellman and Baptiste Daleman
performed by Baptiste Daleman
little margie productions 20©13


"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure." 
HELEN KELLER 1880 - 1968 

Mortality has bugged us humans ever since we've had time to think about it.  Woody Allen (86), said he didn't mind dying, he just doesn't want to be there. Well, who does. Read about a  silicon valley scientist who said he'd found the formula to live to 1000. He, and the head of Alphabet, are aiming for a long life*. They take about 125 supplements**a day.

Advice from an old horse's mouth: waste no money on magic pills. Get a good night's sleep  - a study found going to bed between ten and eleven is best for the heart. Cut stress. Get outdoors: bike, walk, run – at least 30' a day.  Eat less meat. Pile up on fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, garlic, olive oil.  Go easy on the booze and pot. Nix on drugs, except prescribed meds.

Dump sugar – a couple of pieces of chocolate is okay, soda pop is poison. Get a job – Eki's mother Liisa, posts a diary blog, takes photographs, and publishes two books a year for the Halkka family. Have a network of pals, young, old, in-between.  DON'T SMOKE! (a no-brainer). Keep a cash-stash. Be a little bad every day. Have fun. Don't panic. We're all in the same damn*** boat.

PS: Take care of your teeth. Gum disease increases the risk of heart disease.  Before I had a knee replacement at Orton hospital, I had to have my teeth X-rayed.


* Places in the world where people live the longest: Okinawa, Japan, Nicoya, Costa Rica, Loma Linda, Ca.,  Icaria, Greece, Sardinia, Italy.

** LongLife nutritional supplements. Users must fall for the name.

*** Swearing is good for you (Health and Science section of the NYT).

Sources: Financial Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Roberta Nelson, personal experience, Mayo Clinic,, Net

Next week:  2022 OOOPS. What's up next? 



Note: In addition to the above, though she's been a retiree for over two decades, my mom still continues her scientific work, a few weeks' worth each year. We still go out in the archipelago on a small boat, land rocky islets, and catch thousands of spittlebugs every summer. The population genetics field study has been going on for over 50 years. That's quite a time series.

She is also a dedicated geocacher, with almost a thousand finds under her belt. A hobby she started after retiring. I tag along about once a week - it's quite fun, we find interesting places near our hometown I never knew existed, get to chat about, well, everything, and get some healthy exercise on the side. We clock a few thousand steps on uneven terrain on each trip, without even noticing it much. Not in winter though - there are limits to this insanity after all ;-)

CU
--
Eki

Wednesday, 8 December 2021

FRANK GEHRY, 91, Tops Himself With a TOWER in Arles, France

Frank & Alvar, Little Margie Productions 20©05. Best viewed on full screen at Youtube.

Just when we began to think, what the hell happened to Frank Gehry, he pops up in the Financial Times with a boffo review* for LUMA Arles. Love it, hate it (some locals say it looks like a crushed tin can, the Shark thinks it wrecks the landscape), you can't ignore it. The front, covered in polished stainless steel siding, changes color as the day goes by. The tower sits on a giant glass drum, where most of the art is.  Smaller exhibit rooms are in the tower, seen from miles away. Frank does not do subtle.

LUMA Arles, Google Maps Street View. Click and drag to look around.

From the start of his career, Frank has caused a stir. When he couldn't get work he did a crazy makeover of his own house. It got him a lot of press, but no big commissions. His career took off when the movers and shakers in  Bilbao, Spain commissioned him to design the Guggenheim museum. It saved the town - a  huge draw for tourists and new business.  LUMA  Arles had a different mission – to make a 21st-century statement in an ancient Romanesque city.  

Vincent Van Gogh lived in Arles. His work, at the time, was panned. He painted the knock-out Starry Night in a mental hospital nearby. Vincent is yelling from his grave, 'Fuck the naysayers FRANK!”

* Review by Edwin Heathcote

PS: Frank's favorite architect is Alvar Aalto. Little Margie produced "Frank & Alvar" in 2006 (Eki has updated the video  - it looks brand new. He'll tell how he did it.)


Sources: Financial Times, personal experience

Next week: Gettin' OLD Ain't Easy



Note: As Maggy said, the above Youtube link is to a new version of our 15-year old documentary, Frank & Alvar. A lot has happened in digital imaging since then. In 2005 when we shot this documentary (released in 2006), the television cameras were big, extremely expensive, and looked rather impressive too. The image quality was great considering the period but in 2021, it looks like crap.

The Standard Definition (SD) of digital widescreen television in Europe, and most countries outside the USA, was anamorphic D1 PAL 50i, 720*576 pixels.

This standard squeezed the 16:9 widescreen image down horizontally by roughly a third to fit the old 4:3 television signal (that's the anamorphic part). The standard also called for 50 fields per second crammed in 25 interlaced (i) frames. This gave a smooth motion, the distinct "TV look" (as opposed to "film look").

For each frame, the image was divided into odd and even rows of "pixels", or TV lines. The odd row was captured and shown first, then the even one. This way the distinct motion steps could be doubled, at the expense of halving the vertical resolution of moving objects.

The "film look" was and still is something a lot of filmmakers wanted - we'd usually rather have our content look like a movie than like a soap opera. So, we would deliberately toss out one of these two TV fields, to get a more movie-like cadence: 25 frames per second instead of 50 fields per second (films are shot 24 frames per second).

This could be done somewhat intelligently, using the full image for static objects, but interpolating the image from just one field for moving objects. It looked pretty good but had the unfortunate side effect of further reducing the resolution of the image anywhere where there was motion.

So, in the end, the file that was broadcast was at a resolution that was 720*576 pixels for static portions of the image, but only 720*288 pixels for any areas that had motion. The motion detecting algorithm was not perfect, so some errors where both fields show in moving areas remained, but that was unnoticeable on a TV set. On a computer screen, which shows the whole image at once, those errors can be visible.

To sum it up, the resolution was abysmally bad compared to what we are used to nowadays: 1920*1080 full HD, or better*.  Simply scaling the SD image up just enlarges all the errors, mushiness and softness of the image. 
That's also why old TV shows look so horrible on Youtube.

The "zoom in and enhance" trope in movies has always been the laughing stock of anyone who works in the industry. You simply cannot do that - you cannot magically introduce new detail to where there is none. 

Well, that used to be the case. But it's not anymore. There's a lot of talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI) currently, and this is one of the best practical use cases of AI in action**.

Zoom in and enhance actually works now. And that's pretty wild.

The way the AI is trained is rather ingenious. You take millions of high-resolution images and make low-resolution copies of them. Then the AI tries to figure out what kind of patterns (often just a few pixels) in the small image correspond to the actual details in the big image. The cool part is, that there's another AI that keeps a score of how well the scaling AI works, how successful it is in reproducing the original large image. Bad guesses get weeded out, good guesses are kept.


Right-click to open image in a new tab. Compare the AI-enhanced image on the top to the old-style upscaling on the bottom. Also notice how small the original image was.

No human knows what exactly the AI does, it is way too complex for that. After enough training, you just have a "black box" that knows what needs to be done in order to make a decent big image out of a small image. And it works. Not perfectly, but surprisingly well, even in this first generation of AI image enhancers.

In the case of Frank & Alvar, i used Topaz Video Enhance AI, which is the first commercial software package to use this technology, as far as i know. I actually got better results after scaling the 720*576 image further down a little, to 720*408 16:9 aspect ratio before feeding it to the AI. This reduced the interlacing artifacts i mentioned earlier.

The resulting image quality is surprisingly good. There are places where the AI did some pretty weird choices, making for some surreal imagery when closely examined, but these usually go unnoticed in the moving video. And there also are some shots that could be easily mistaken for a modern HD camera. 

Color me impressed.

CU
--
Eki


Even most new phones have cameras that do 4K (Ultra HD, UHD) video, which is an even higher resolution. SD is about 0.5 megapixels, HD is about 2 megapixels, and UHD is about 8 megapixels. That's 16 times more resolution than SD television had.

** AI image processing can do some rather cool other stuff too - from imagining new frames between the actual ones for a pretty convincing slow motion to creating believable digital humans, landscapes, and other images to making your photos look like Van Gogh paintings. And we're still just starting, scratching the surface of what is possible. And then there are all the other use cases - AI has replaced journalists for some simple reporting, and it can even excel on comedy: https://arr.am/2020/07/17/jerry-seinfeld-and-eddie-murphy-talk-shit-about-san-francisco-by-gpt-3/

Monday, 22 November 2021

COP26: report from GLASGOW by ANNA R.*

The global temperature anomaly 1900-present,
12-month running average in degrees Celcius,
HADCRUT4 / Woodfortrees.org

When I booked a ticket for the last day of the COP26 climate summit I was excited. The conference was divided into two zones: the Blue Zone, which hosted the negotiations, and the Green Zone, which was open to the general public. We got tickets to the Green Zone. Leading up to my visit, news coverage was not optimistic. People had a lot of criticism and protesters gathered to demand action. By the time I was on the train to Glasgow, my expectations for the day were low.

We took an electric bus from the train station to the Glasgow Science Centre where the Green Zone was. The public transport was free for everyone registered to attend COP26. Once there, my friends and I walked around, looked at the exhibitions and watched a planetarium show about the Earth and the rising temperature. I was positively surprised by how many companies had stalls and showed how committed they were to tackling climate change through various ways, such as using renewable energy and reducing waste. When we left the centre I felt optimistic and protective of the environment and the planet.

As we took the train back from Glasgow in the evening, the negotiations continued in overtime. Although my general impression of the Green Zone was positive, I do worry that the measures that this summit produced are not nearly sufficient to properly address the climate crisis. This issue was highlighted by the protesters throughout COP26. It is not enough that we listen anymore, it is time to join the crowds and demand change. Actions, not words, will show the true results of COP26. 

*ANNA R. is 21, a student at Edinburg University.

Nest week: "Gettin' Old Ain't Easy"



Note: I have followed the climate change discussion and politics for a long time, trying to defend the science and debunk the denialist claims whenever I come across them. I have also followed the bewildering double standard of a lot of pretty talk but virtually no action by the powers to be. You know, the same stuff Greta Thunberg talks about.

But unlike her, I'm guilty of doing essentially nothing, actually. At least apart from arguing on the internet, and some life choices that reduce my carbon footprint. I have no children, no car, and I work from home. I do not travel much by air. I have even reduced the use of red meat considerably. The thing is, I didn't really do these choices because of the climate (at least not mainly), so I can't really take much climate-change-activist-credit for them either. So my main real contribution is just the debates, I guess. Which is not a lot.

This isn't really surprising, as the things an individual citizen can do are very limited. The corporations will only change if forced, or if it is profitable. Not because they are inherently evil, but because that's what is needed for success.

We thus cannot rely on the people or the businesses, the big change really must come from the governments, from international agreements.

I'm used to getting disappointed with the results of climate negotiations. And the same goes for COP26. It's always too little, too late. But there's perhaps a slither of hope. Big ships turn slowly, but i feel the heading is really changing. Finally. Perhaps thanks to activists like Greta and Extinction Rebellion, the issue is finally starting to be taken with the gravitas it deserves. Or maybe it's just that the always too small steps forward seen in the political negotiations and corporate behavior do indeed accumulate to a bigger whole over time and make a difference.

In any case, I'm more optimistic than I have been in a long while. There seems to be actual progress being made.


CU
--
Eki

Monday, 15 November 2021

SQUIDEMIC

Squids, just hangin' there. Image by Altmark / Pixabay

A  stone-broke guy, drowning in debt gets a message to play SQUID GAMES.  Win, you take home millions. Lose you die.” One of the (kid's) games is to take a dalgona* out of its mole without breaking the brittle toffee. Win, you pass. Fail, you get shot in the head. Squid Game is the hottest Netflix series ever – 142 million worldwide viewers and counting. And the media has jumped on the squid bandwagon.

South Korea is on a culture export roll. K-Pop boy bands have been around for a while and are still on top.  The So. Korean president took a group to the UNN meeting in New York - they were part of his entourage.  Another K-Popper had a smash-hit gig in No. Korea – Kim Jung Un was not happy. So. Korean cosmetics have gone mainstream. Young hucksters with perfect skin** tell us we can look like them. We believe.

SQUID's stylish pop-art visuals are part of its pull... The enforcers are dressed head to toe in Shocking pink with a black mask. Contestants wear dull gray jumpsuits and are treated like robots. But the game is hooked to reality: lots of people, especially the young, are stone broke and drowning in debt. At the finale, SQUID's rich investors are invited to watch the on a big screen in cushy comfort - the bet on the losers. Spoiler alert: the winner goes home rich. But he's invited to play in the next Squid Game – he accepts. Cripes. Gimme a shot of tequila.  Leave the bottle.

*Dalgona went viral. It was the Economist 'word of the week'. Recipe: half cup of baking soda, three tablespoons sugar. Mix and melt slowly in a pan. Carefully pour drops on waxed paper. Leave till toffee hardens.

Sources: The Economist, Washington Post, Net, Roberta Nelson

Next week: COP26: report from Glasgow by Anna R.

Correction:  last week, “pack your pistol, no permit need” should have been, “pack your piston, no permit needed to carry.” sorry. 



Note:

Well... this is not by any means an original idea: "survivor games to death" movies have been out there for quite a while. Japanese film Battle Royale (Batoru Rowaiaru) comes to mind, as well as the later Hunger Games movies. There probably are predecessors to these, but i'm honestly not interested enough to google for them. 

The thing is, I find this whole genre rather repulsive.

The story, if any, is there only to justify an endless onslaught of ultra-violent and graphic killings. It really is just a film version of the morbid rubbernecking of a lethal car crash when passing by. Or more accurately, it's an endless stream of lethal car crashes. The violence and death and gore are not there to underline a story point, they ARE the story.

So, sure, I do have Netflix, but nope, I don't think I will ever join the 143 million+ onlookers on this car crash highway.

CU
--
Eki


Friday, 29 October 2021

ROOTIN' TOOTIN' TEXAS VIGILANTE ABORTION LAW

Cadillac Ranch by BrittanyU / Pixabay

Pack your pistols – no permit needed  - and hunt down those varmints who break the new Texas law:  abortion is “illegal” after six weeks. In a trick to avert a conflict with the federal law, Roe v Wade*, any US citizen has the right to sue the perpetrators.

A doctor in Texas performed an abortion past the time limit. He wrote an article about it in the Washington Post. An out-of-state jail-bird-lawyer sued him.  The suer didn't give a damn about the rights and wrongs, he wants to collect the reward - $10,000.

A friend got pregnant pre-Roe v Wade. She called her shrink in LA. He made appointments with two psychiatrists, who agreed with her decision.  A recommended,  reputable doctor induced a miscarriage. He did a D & C at St. Johns -  a Catholic hospital in Santa Monica. She had resources and connections, but most women who need an abortion can't afford to fly to another state. Two lawsuits against the Texas law failed in the Supreme Court**.  The trend is catching on in red states:  Mississippi has come up with an anti-abortion law. It will take more than a protest march to check this bogus attack on WOMEN'S RIGHT TO CHOOSE.

* Roe v Wade is almost 50 years old

** Supreme Court Justices: six  Catholics, one Anglo-Catholic, two Jews

Sources: the Economist, New York Times. Washington Post, CNN, Morning Joe, personal experience

Next week: WORLDWIDE SQUIDEMIC

Note: Well, I thought I'd have a lot to say about the issue. But to be honest, to someone from a civilized and egalitarian Nordic country, the whole issue sounds so outlandishly bonkers that there's not much to say. The GOP is so far down the insanity rabbit hole that they're really beyond reach. 

I just hope we are witnessing the last dying breaths of the gnarly beast that is the extreme right, and sanity will overcome. Not just in the US but everywhere.

In reality, they are a shrinking minority, they are cornered. I hope it's just that their endangered species is getting extra aggressive because even *they* know extinction is near.

It's either that, or we're screwed.

CU
--
Eki

Thursday, 7 October 2021

RED HOT PREPPERS

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” - Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790



Red Hot Chili Peppers (sorry, misread the title)
Image: Tookapic/pixabay

A double whammy – the global pandemic and Climate Change – has stoked a movement to prepare for TEOTWAWKI*. Rich techies make super-preppers. They buy big plots of land in remote places (for ex. New Zealand), build blast-proof bunkers, and stock up for long-term survival.  They hide their billions in secret off-shore accounts.  At Silicon Valley cocktail parties the mot du jour is DOOMSDAY.


Ordinary Nervous Nellies prepare for months, instead of years. Practicing Mormons are master Preppers –  they believe it teaches self-reliance. Mormon cellars are stocked and they are advised to have money in reserve. The French aren't big Preppers, but towns and villages along major auto routes keep emergency blankets, water, and food to aid stranded motorists.

Prepper list:  dried and canned food, bottled water, booze, and/or pot, if you want to relax, toilet paper, paper towels, first-aid kit, batteries, flashlight, candles, matches, multitool, knife sharpener, scissors, nitrile gloves, wipes,  hand sanitizer, duct tape, a vegetable garden, a shovel, masks, an upbeat attitude, and cash. Stocking up for the worst ain't cheap; it takes resources, planning, and work to prepare for a world WROL**.

* TEOTWAWKI: The End of the World As We Know It
** WROL: Without Rule of r Law***
*** Prepper dig acronyms

Sources:  The Economist, Washington Post, Pandora Papers*, internet, Cyril Maret

*A worldwide investigation: how, and where, billionaires hide their billions. 14 world leaders and a king are implicated. (source: Washington Post 4/10/2021)

Next week: ROOTIN' TOOTIN' TEXAS VIGILANTE ABORTION LAW

Note: I guess the rich have always feared the day when the peasants have finally had enough and go get their pitchforks.

Me, well, I'm not rich and definitely not a prepper. The closest I get is a whole day without going to the grocery store. Those are pretty rare. Even if I haul two metric ton bags home in the evening, feeling certain that I forgot nothing and that tomorrow there's definitely no need to shop... in the morning it turns out we're out of coffee.

I'm hopeless.

CU
--
Eki