The intellectual equivalent of a ham sandwich.

Posts tagged ‘weird’

Toastmasters, Racist Algorithms, and Other Thoughts

Recently the Toastmasters club I am a part of had a meeting with the theme of MLK, Jr. day. At each Toastmasters meeting one part of the meeting is ‘Table Topics’ which is a chance to do some impromptu speaking (as opposed to a prepared speech). In this section, you volunteer to get up and then are asked a question, and you need to answer that within 1 – 2 minutes. With our club we usually have the questions correspond to the theme.

I was asked, ‘if you are on a bus with your niece and she turns to you and says, “why is that other kid brown?” what do you say to your niece?’ A good question, and the table topics master had 3 great questions that were asked that day.

But the question was based on assumption – my real or fictional nieces aren’t brown. And that’s true for 2/3 of them. One of them has a dad who is Haitian-American, so she looks … funny enough, sorta like Moana. In my answer I talked about (or attempted to) how kids are amazing because they just ask questions – there is no agenda or purpose other than to learn. My wife, son and I live in Colorado so my son will grow up seeing a whoooooole lot of white people and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear him ask such a question (though if he does clearly we’re not spending enough time with his cousins). And yes, it would make me uncomfortable and nervous and feel awkward, but hopefully the parent of the other kiddo would give me a look like, ‘yeah, I’ve been there’ and we could talk about the simple fact that some people are short, some people are tall, some people have pale skin, some people have dark skin. They are physical attributes, and they’re one of the many wonderful differences in people and that’s why it’s so amazing to get to live in a world where you can talk to other people are learn about them. Boom. (Pst. I said maybe 10% of that and it was maybe 1% comprehensible.)

In the meeting I also talked about a pet peeve of mine in storytelling. I mentioned that I noticed white people do this a lot, but later I thought about it and realized my sample pool for anecdotes is pretty much all white, so anyone could be equally guilty of this. It annoys me when someone identifies a person’s race in a story when it doesn’t matter.

Here’s where it doesn’t matter: I was at the grocery store, and the clerk was the sweetest black woman.

Here’s where it matters: You’re at convention center in Denver and the one black guy in the room is wearing an awesome t-shirt and you say, ‘oh man, check out that black dude’s t-shirt, it’s awesome.’ I could be race-free and say, ‘check out the uh … he’s like, 4 o’clock … no left a little more, kinda by that pole … no not that weird beard-y guy it’s the … he’s …’ But that’s just dumb. It’s not racist to use the most unique physical characteristic to describe someone. If the black dude was 9 feet tall I’d probably instead say, ‘check out the frighteningly tall dude’s awesome t-shirt, and also let’s leave because his height scares me.’

Now, what’s all that got to do with racist algorithms? The video I attached is awesome and you should watch it. Really. It’s 2 ½ minutes. It’ll make you smarter unless you already know it. And it’s fascinating.

Here’s my own example: we are letting computers figure stuff out these days, which is cool. Let’s say a team of doctor’s takes a million brain scans and says ok, we looked through these and 2,654 of these pictures have tumors, the rest are tumor-free. ‘Computer, take a gander at these and here are the ones that are tumor-free, and here are the tumor ones.’ And the computer goes, ok cool, got it. Then the team of doctor’s looks at a new set of one million brain scans and gives them to the computer and says, ‘tell me what you think, boss, which of these have tumors?’ And the computer comes back and says these 3,127 have tumors, the rest don’t. And you go back and forth and back and forth and the computer learns how to spot tumors.

That’s incredible. (And IMO, underutilized. Having my son at the NICU and knowing that they didn’t harvest the hordes of data they were collecting on him was an absolute travesty to me. With machine learning, they might be able to predict when a premature baby is going to have their heart rate suddenly drop so a nurse is standing there waiting patiently to intercede instead of sprinting into the room.)

Here’s where it’s bad. Let’s say you take police data and say, ‘hey computer, here’s a bunch of data on crime, traffic incidents, just anything and everything the cops took notes on … what do you think, can you draw any conclusions or guess when something bad or where something bad might happen?’ And the computer will says, ‘yeah dudes, but FYI, there is a definite risk of systemic ingrained cultural biases that factor into police work and it’s an incredibly complex topic and I’m not sure you or I are well-enough equipped to handle this but uh … I’m going to guess there will be some crime in the area where all the poor people live, especially the poor black people.’ And then the police can go patrol that area more and re-emphasize the bias.

F-ing racist computer.

So. Watch out when you feel the need to identify a characteristic for one person or set of people that you don’t for others. If you tell a story where you describe an old man, was his age relevant? What about her weight? What about his … etc, etc. It’s tough to be aware of your language, but it’s a good thing to shoot for.

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Attn: Ellen (8/15/18)

Front

Ellen361a

 

Back (apologies for my handwriting!)

Ellen361b

 

The text of the postcard is

Dear Ellen,

What’s more terrifying? Waking up in a creepy, unsettlingly sterile room like on this postcard, or a seedy motel room? 3rd option, waking up naked in the Disney castle.

Sincerely,
DumbFunnery.com OR
@DumbFunnery

Why am I doing this?

 

Attn: Ellen (7/11/18)

Front

Ellen357a

Back (apologies for my handwriting!)

Ellen356b

 

The text of the postcard is

Dear Ellen,

I like this picture because at first you see the feet and think, ‘oh weird’ then you see the arm and think ‘AHH!’

Sorta like a first date red flag reveal.

Sincerely,
DumbFunnery.com
OR @DumbFunnery

Why am I doing this?

 

The Little Bus, With the Little Passenger

If you are a frequent visitor to my blog then you are aware that my wife and I have a kiddo, and he was born about 7 weeks early. This has led to my wife and I being quite interested in all things preterm (we’re part of a select club you know).

Recently, an article in the journal Science talked about some findings … given that I’m not brainy or enthused enough to read every Science journal (a more ambitious and time-well-utilized version of myself would) … I read a dumbed down article about it from the New York Times.

It ended with this paragraph,

It is almost as though the molecular message being sent by RNA “is a little bus that travels back and forth and is letting Mom know what’s going on,” Dr. Cheng said.  “I bet you they’re going to find that the mother’s going to respond. There’s a conversation going on. That’s what’s cool.”

(RNA is what is looked at by this blood test.)

***

Hi, I’m Gary. I drive the bus that a mother and fetus use to talk to each other and it’s amazing and incredible and whatever, but guys. It is also disgusting.

You know how pregnant women have their ‘water.’ And when it’s go time the water breaks and oh a miracle and blah blah?

You know that water is partially baby urine, right? And that sick baby is drinking that urine?

Do you know what it’s like communicating with a urine drinker? I’LL TELL YOU! IT’S GROSS. Their breath is just … weird. And they have this distinct, ‘as soon as this conversation is over … I’m gonna drink more urine’ look on their faces. It’s weird.

And those little guys are INTENSE. Their hearts beat like … I don’t know, 160 beats per minute? Imagine the tiniest person you know on crack, drinking urine. That’s a baby. ‘Hey look man, I just discovered this, check it out!’ Then the baby goes and like strangles itself with the umbilical cord for a while, all the while staring right at me. Blech. It’s terrifying.

And you know who I haven’t even mentioned yet? The mother. My God the mother. ‘Oh I’m a dad and my wife is more emotional these days and wah wah wah.’ OH YEAH, PAL!? TRY DRIVING A BUS INSIDE SOMEONE WHOSE HORMONES LIKE JUST TOOK LSD AND HEADED TO THE TOWN CARNIVAL.

Seriously. It’s like, you show up and say, ‘hey, baby says maybe 7 weeks to go and it’s digging all the kale you’ve been eating lately, but also it wants you to eat ice cream out of a plastic bag.’ And the mom is like, ‘my little darling angel’ all cooing with love and then the mom thinks about all the plastic garbage floating in the ocean and she starts crying and then the mom thinks about how salty her tears are and wants McDonald’s fries and then she’s SO, SO ANGRY AND I DON’T KNOW WHY.

So you get the message from the mom which is … you know, mixed, and you take it back to old urine mouth.

It’s just.

I don’t know man.

I wish one of the white blood cells would hang out with me sometime, those guys are cool.

Farewell, Sneakers

One day in college I sat down at a dining table where a friend was already sitting. He had a spoon and a yogurt in front of him. My friend, as far as I know, was not high. But he looked at the spoon and said, “Made in China. This spoon was made in China. This spoon has done more traveling than I have.”

Today I say farewell to my traveling pals, and shoes that I otherwise wore out all the time. They’ve been to India, Colombia, Peru and work (work more so than the others).

In their old age they had adapted a few friendly practices. For example, ‘smell holes.’ These were holes in the bottom of the shoes to let out any sweaty feet smells … they had the unintended consequence of making this shoes miserable if you wore them on a rainy day. But hey, nevertheless, great innovative idea shoes and I applaud your self-initiative in opening up those holes without first checking with me.

Another thing that one of the shoes was testing (I assume it was a test to prove the worthiness of this idea before the other shoe adopted it) – ‘efficiency optimizer.’ This was where one of the shoes was slowly starting to come apart at the seams, encouraging me to pick the most efficient route whenever I wore them. Good thinking, shoe!

Goodbye old friends.

IMG_20180609_170840102

 

If I Was a Spy

Interrogator: We can do this the hard way … or the easy way.

Me: I’d like to hear a bit more about both options, please.

Interrogator: Well the easy way involves a nice, tall glass of milk and a doughnut and the hard way (Laughs darkly) … Well, it doesn’t.

Me: What type of doughnut?

Interrogator: … Listen. You’re paying attention to the wrong details.

Me: I said. What. Type. Of. Doughnut.

Interrogator: I ASK THE QUESTIONS HERE!

Me: Well maybe head to the backroom and ask what type of doughnut, eh chief?

Interrogator: No. We will torture you, or you will tell us what we want to know.

Me: Are you saying the milk and doughnut were a ruse?

Interrogator: Oh my God. Can someone else step in here? It’s like dealing with my child.

Me: Are you saying your child is out there somewhere, right now, eating a doughnut?

Interrogator 2: Ok Phil, let me take over.

Me: A guy named PHIL was going to torture me? That’s embarrassing for everybody.

Interrogator 2: I just ate a delicious doughnut, and now … I’m going to torture you.

Me: That had absolutely zero tension-building. Just awful … What type of dougnut?

Interrogator 2: Jelly filled.

Me: Oh gross. You want to torture me? Make me eat one of those. Blech.

Interrogator 2: You don’t like jelly filled? Are you crazy? Those are the best.

Me: Dude. No. Maple long john, not filled.

Interrogator 2: Oh sick. You’re a sick, sick man. I can’t torture this man … he’s already broken.

Fin

Epilogue: I escape, and go eat a doughnut.

 

 

 

 

Is Your Body an Extremist?

Recently I woke up around 1030 pm (both my wife and I had gone to bed a bit after 8 – PARTY!) and my clothes were soaked with sweat, as was the pillow I have between my knees, and my pj’s. It was … gross. BUT! My fever was gone, I felt great compared to how I was feeling when I went to bed.

After changing clothes, putting a towel down over my side of the bed (seriously … so much sweat), I laid back down and went to sleep.

But … aren’t fevers crazy?

Your Body: ‘Ok, we’ve got a code yellow. I repeat a code yellow. We have some intruders and we’re going to need to combat this so we feel good.’

Creepy, Dark-Hooded Phantom in the Corner: ‘Burn them.’

Your Body: ‘Uh … I mean … we’ve got lots of different blood cells, maybe we just concoct the right mix of -‘

Creepo: (Smiles) ‘Burn them all.’

Your Body: ‘Nah man, you’re not listening.’

Creepo: ‘Do you feel that?’

Your Body: ‘Wait! How are you doing this? Why are we so warm?’

Creepo: ‘No one likes it when the temp is set to 102!’

Your Body: ‘You’re perfectly freaking right no one likes it. Ahhh. I feel miserable!’

Creepo: ‘Yes. YES!’

Your Body: ‘How am I so cold? Quick! Blankets, all the blankets!’

 

Look, I’m no scientist, but this is how I figure it happens. There’s some pyromaniac living inside you who decides to just light the whole place up whenever something is amiss. 

Psychotic, huh?

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