Don’t Believe Everything You Hear…

…or everything you see, either!

Did you hear about this?

New technology makes it alarmingly easy to make realistic videos of people saying and doing things they’ve never done.”

This is not fake news! It’s apparently true. There is new technology, a sophisticated type of software, that makes it possible to superimpose one person’s face onto another’s body and manipulate voice recordings, creating fake videos that look and sound real.

While Hollywood studios have long used computer-generated imagery (CGI) to create, for example, fleeting appearances of dead actors, the process was prohibitively expensive and laborious. Today, the technology, known as “deepfakes,” has improved so much so that highly realistic visual and audio fakery can be produced by anyone with a powerful home computer.

Apparently deepfakes technology has already sparked an explosion of fake pornography online, with Michelle Obama, Ivanka Trump, and Emma Watson among those most frequently victimized. (I can’t personally corroborate this, but I’m sure if you wish to, you can probably do a Google search for “deepfakes porn” and see for yourself.)

Fears are growing, however, over how else “deepfakes” videos could be used — from smearing politicians in elections to inciting major international conflict.

Earlier this year, BuzzFeed created a “public service announcement” warning of the technology’s dangers, with a deepfakes of former President Barack Obama voiced by the comedian and director Jordan Peele.

In that deepfakes, the fake Obama said, “We’re entering an era in which our enemies can make it look like anyone is saying anything.” To illustrate the point, the fake Obama goes on to call President Trump “a total and complete dipshit.”

This technology uses facial mapping and artificial intelligence to produce videos that appear so genuine it’s hard to spot the phonies. Lawmakers and intelligence officials worry that these deepfakes could be used to threaten national security or interfere in elections. Politicians of both parties are concerned that this high-tech way of putting words into someone’s mouth will become the latest weapon in disinformation wars against the United States and other Western democracies.

It kinda makes you question whether technology is a good thing or a bad thing, doesn’t it?

A to Z Challenge — Reflections

9659909C-5156-4B0C-9250-F2280DBF771ASo this is where we’re supposed to reflect upon our experiences during last month’s A to Z Challenge. Here goes.

Even though April has only 30 days. I published more posts in April (108) than in any previous month. And I also got more comments than in any previous month, as well. So that was good.

As far as the challenge itself, I sort of winged it. I didn’t have a particular theme, other than “other,” which seems perfectly appropriate for a blog titled “This, That, and the Other.”

I also composed most of my posts either the night before, or on the day, they were “due.” None of this composing posts way in advance for me. Who has time for that?

I did end up following a few additional bloggers who also commented on my challenge posts and I think I gained maybe a dozen new followers during the month, but I can’t specifically attribute that to my challenge posts.

To be honest, there were so many participants in the challenge that I only read a very small fraction of the posts associated with the challenge, most of which were from bloggers I already follow.

But bottom line, even though I said “Yay, it’s over” once the month came to an end, I’m really glad that I participated. It was fun coming up with a post each day based upon a different letter of the alphabet.

If you’re interested in reading all of (or any of) my A to Z Challange posts, just click on the “A to Z Challenge” category on my blog and then take your pick.

By the way, my two most viewed and commented on Challenge posts were:

D is for Doppelgänger and M is for Masturbation.

Z is for Zig-Zag

D59D933B-5F16-4072-B70D-381EF0BA21ADWell, this is it. The final day of this year’s A to Z Challenge. And that means that it’s also time to post about the last letter of the alphabet — Z. My Z word is “zig zag.”

Decades before medical marijuana could be sold with a doctor’s prescription and, even more recently, in a number of states that have legalized the sale and use of marijuana for recreational use, the only way to score some pot was if you knew a guy who knew a guy.

Hence, there was a vibrant underground for the buying grass. At the same time, though, a number of small, retail places that serviced the pot-smoking community sprung up in strip malls and shopping centers. These storefronts were called “head shops.”

DF53816C-67F6-4AF3-BF83-03B02EAD3FD4Most head shops had a lot of psychedelic posters, black lights, multicolored plastic beads hanging from the front door and separating the front of the store from the back room, and smelled of burning incense. Some had beanbag chairs and played albums from Hendrix, Joplin, and Jefferson Airplane on the shop’s stereo system turntable.

These head shops from the late 60s through 70s didn’t sell pot or any other drugs. Their merchandise consisted of pot paraphernalia, from pot and hash pipes to bongs, roach clips, posters, and scented incense. And, of course, joint rolling papers, the best of which were Zig-Zag brand papers.

C6B23260-C282-4EAF-A7E7-C1E2D14CCA9CThe label on the Zig-Zag packaging called them “cigarette papers,” but I never, ever saw anyone smoking tobacco in Zig-Zag rolling papers. And it’s not like you could find Zig-Zag rolling papers at the local pharmacy, grocery store, or convenience store. Just at head shops.

So, I dedicate this final A to Z Challenge post to Zig-Zag brand rolling papers. They really helped keep my shit together back in the day.

Y is for YOLO

8F9F6D3D-F748-4BC1-9E61-0AFFAA750343YOLO is an acronym for “you only live once.” It first became part of the vernacular when chart-topping Canadian rapper Drake popularized the term “YOLO” with “The Motto,” a bonus track from his 2011 album, Take Care.

Essentially, YOLO suggests that one should make the most of the present moment without worrying about the future, even if it means embracing behaviors that carry inherent risk.

The phrase “you only live once” inspires people to throw caution to the wind and follow their whims, wherever they may lead. Along the same lines as the Latin “carpe diem” (seize the day), it is a call to live life to its fullest extent, since it’s the only life you have.

My philosophy of life has a YOLO component to it. It’s not that I live only for today with no thoughts about the future. And I’m certainly not one who embraces risky behaviors. However, as someone who doesn’t believe in reincarnation or in an afterlife, I do believe that the life we lead is the only life we have, so we should try to make the most of it.

X is for Xerox

C440682F-B7BA-4294-B626-95A02534D7B9One of my earliest jobs was working at a facility that fulfilled requests for scientific and technical document published by NASA. I worked the 4 pm to midnight shift, since I was going to college full-time during the day. My title was “reprographer” and my job was to stand in front of a Xerox machine making copies of lengthy NASA documents by photocopying them one page at a time. What fun, right?

You remember Xerox, right? Xerox is the brand that for decades dominated the photocopying hardware market. No respectable office didn’t have at least one Xerox machine and many businesses depended upon Xerox copiers to help them manage their enormous flow of documents. The name Xerox eventually became a synonym for photocopy. So ubiquitous were Xerox machines that the brand name became a verb, as in “Will you Xerox this for me?”

With today’s technologies, the need to make physical, paper copies of documents has almost disappeared. In those cases where a printed document is required, you just print off a paper version of an electronic document by sending it to your printer. And if you need multiple copies, you print as many as you need. So there is very little need these days for standalone copiers.

According to the New York Times, Xerox fell into something called a “competency trap.” It got so good at copy machines and printers that it eventually fell short on its efforts to do anything else.

“Xerox is the poster child for monopoly technology businesses that cannot make the transition to a new generation of technology,” Harvard Business School’s David B. Yoffie told the New York Times.

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Earlier this year, Xerox lost its identity as an independent company when it was essentially absorbed by Japan’s Fujifilm Holdings Corp.

I’ve been retired since the end of 2016, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a Xerox-branded copy machine in a business office. Can you?