Sunday while taking a break I decided to see what’s up on Unz Review. Most memorable was https://www.unz.com/ishamir/banned-by-facebook-for-telling-the-truth/ by Israel Shamir. Ultimately, that inspired me to make a list of alternatives to media sites and internet services controlled by Israel/Jews/Zionists/Hasbara. vKontakte, which means “in contact,” was on that list. And so, with some free time, I made an account for myself and chatted on there with a Russian tenured professor in the US with similar views. I haven’t touched Russian (the language) for a while, but vKontakte sort of brought me back to that. Just like one can’t avoid the ads within one’s Facebook messenger contact list, one can’t avoid Russian content on vKontakte. I saw plenty of posts in Russian with comments in Russian. So yet another distraction. It’s quite unlikely that I’ll ever use the language very directly, especially in a way that helps my career. The main benefit of knowing it is to access some content. The better I am at reading it the easier it will be for me to learn about that other really rich and powerful cultural world. I remember long long ago somebody told me that Russian is useless, because Russia’s economy sucks, and they’re really only good at aerospace, but they’re not going give you their state of the art aerospace technology anyway. To be fair, the content both in science and engineering and in politics and the arts in Russian is quite substantial. It almost rivals or even rivals or even exceeds the English language world. I am already quite a fan of their music after all, which was what led into the language in the first place. And it’s some actually high culture, not the spiritually poisoning garbage in the English media Continue reading “vKontakte (вКонтакте) and a return to Russian”
周五晚上，我想到可以把Ron Unz在他的媒体网站Unz Review上发表的关于孟晚舟事件的文章翻译成中文。所以周六就那么做了。少部分不太好翻译的地方我就漏掉了。结果是：
Averting World Conflict with China
The PRC Should Retaliate by Targeting Sheldon Adelson’s Chinese Casinos
RON UNZ • DECEMBER 13, 2018
As most readers know, I’m not a casual political blogger and I prefer producing lengthy research articles rather than chasing the headlines of current events. But there are exceptions to every rule, and the looming danger of a direct worldwide clash with China is one of them.
Consider the arrest last week of Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Huawei, the world’s largest telecom equipment manufacturer. While flying from Hong Kong to Mexico, Ms. Meng was changing planes in the Vancouver International Airport airport when she was suddenly detained by the Canadian government on an August US warrant. Although now released on $10 million bail, she still faces extradition to a New York City courtroom, where she could receive up to thirty years in federal prison for allegedly having conspired in 2010 to violate America’s unilateral economic trade sanctions against Iran.
Although our mainstream media outlets have certainly covered this important story, including front page articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, I doubt most American readers fully recognize the extraordinary gravity of this international incident and its potential for altering the course of world history. As one scholar noted, no event since America’s deliberate 1999 bombing of China’s embassy in Belgrade, which killed several Chinese diplomats, has so outraged both the Chinese government and its population. Columbia’s Jeffrey Sachs correctly described it as “almost a US declaration of war on China’s business community.”
Such a reaction is hardly surprising. With annual revenue of $100 billion, Huawei ranks as the world’s largest and most advanced telecommunications equipment manufacturer as well as China’s most internationally successful and prestigious company. Ms. Meng is not only a longtime top executive there, but also the daughter of the company’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, whose enormous entrepreneurial success has established him as a Chinese national hero.
Her seizure on obscure American sanction violation charges while changing planes in a Canadian airport almost amounts to a kidnapping. One journalist asked how Americans would react if China had seized Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook for violating Chinese law…especially if Sandberg were also the daughter of Steve Jobs.
她的在加拿大转机时根据不明确的美国制裁违反的公诉的拘捕接近于一个绑架。一位记者问了美国人如果中国为了违反中国法律拘捕了雪梨·桑德伯格会如何反应，尤其假设桑德伯格又是乔布斯的女儿。 Continue reading “周末过得还相当充实，做了些翻译和业余的编程”
I feel some of its content is worth sharing more widely. So I’m copy pasting it here with some modifications.
I’m kind of disappointed that Ron Unz blocked my comment in Chinese on his article http://www.u
I also don’t like this clause
Submitted comments become the property of The Unz Review and may be republished elsewhere at the sole discretion of the latter
There are some particular people on the site I’d like to talk more in private, like AnonFromTN and Vidi. I’ve exchanged a fair bit with the former already on that site publicly, who is a Russian immigrant biologist. Do you have his contact information?
There is also that Unz Review is really high latency (aka very slow). It was in the US too. After all, images plus hundreds of comments have to be loaded all at once. I actually prefer not to turn on my VPN while in China. Chinese sites hosted in China load slower if I use that (even when I use its Hong Kong configuration) and turning on/off is an annoyance. Sadly, if I want to listen to some Soviet songs, I basically have to go on YouTube. Even Yandex video results are almost all YouTube. Now that is something that Russia didn’t do right, not making their own large video site (tell me if there is one).
In that Chinese comment of mine, in reply to a guy almost certainly Chinese who is very pro Chinese communist according to his comments (text below along with screenshot in case you want to copy paste to an online translator), I wrote that even though Unz Review is contrarian towards American mainstream, it’s still an American media, in English, and that if he likes the Chinese communists so much, he would do much better to support some Chinese companies, maybe work for one, than comment in English on a fringe media site political viewpoints few English readers really want to hear. Continue reading “An email I wrote to a Russian in Russia on my thoughts on media/information sovereignty”
I recall how like four or five years ago, somebody told me that the Ministry of Education of China made English optional on the gaokao. I wonder what exactly was the rationale behind it. That was saying how English will not end up all that useful for most Chinese high school students (remember that those who immigrate to the US are a very small percentage, and that reading technical literature in English isn’t all that hard for smart people in STEM), and that time would be better spent learning more physics and chemistry as well as other non-language skills as far as economic productivity goes. This explanation certainly makes sense. China functions just fine doing everything in its own language, one notoriously difficult and complex in the eyes of outsiders. There is also that too much English might lead to more connection to America than is beneficial. On this note, I can think of how India’s English may have actually hurt it; because of it, the economy there naturally ended up depending too much on English services as opposed to actual industrial production, from which real economic power derives. Moreover, India’s English has greatly hindered her from developing a domestic internet industry, in contrast to China.
I wrote my previous blog article lying in bed at night very tired, trying out speech recognition input. I was using the one provided by Sogou. It turned out that even after many manual corrections, there were still several errors made which I didn’t catch. You can check the complexity and level of ambiguity of the writing itself (of course you’ll have to read Chinese). You also don’t know how clearly I spoke. Yes, it can be a problem when you speak quickly without a certain level of enunciation, especially when your combination of words isn’t all that frequent. There are of course also exceptional cases which a smart human would easily recognize that the machine cannot, like when I say Sogou, a human with the contextual knowledge would not see it as “so go.” Of course, this is expected, AI is only as good as your training data.
I tried Google’s speech recognition too, here, and initially it seemed to work much better, until it started to make errors too. Next, I tried IFlyTek, this company in Hefei which supposedly hires a ton of USTC (中科大) grads. Still not much better. It’s much easier to type Chinese and have to select something other than the default very occasionally. Turns out that the statistical NLP techniques for Chinese input work well enough, especially given the corpus that Sogou, whose input method I use, has accumulated over time. I had read that back a while ago, it even criticized Google for using some of their data for their Pinyin input method, and Google actually conceded that it did. It’s expected that the Chinese companies in China would have easier access to such data. Even so, Google Translate still works visibly better than Baidu Translate, even for Chinese.
From an HCI perspective, it’s much easier to input English on phone than to input Chinese. Why? Because spelling (Pinyin in the case of Chinese) correction, necessarily for phone touch-screen keyboard, works much better for English than for Chinese. Sure, Sogou provides a 9 key input method as shown below (as opposed to the traditional 26 key),
where once one is sufficiently practiced, the key press error rate goes down significantly, but the tradeoff is more ambiguity, which means more error in inference to manually correct. In the example below, 需要(xu’yao) and 语言(yu’yan) are equivalent under the key-based equivalence relation (where equivalence classes are ABC, DEF, PQRS, etc). Unfortunately, I meant 语言(yu’yan) but the system detected as 需要(xu’yao).
You can kind of guess that I wanted to say that “Chinese this language is shit.” The monosyllabic-ness of the spoken Chinese language, in contrast to the polysyllabic (?) languages in the Middle East for which the alphabet was first developed, obstructed the creation of an alphabet. Because each distinct syllable in Chinese maps to so many distinct characters with different meanings, there would be much ambiguity without characters. For an extreme example of this, Chinese linguistic genius Yuen Ren Chao (赵元任) composed an actually meaningful passage with 92 characters all pronounced shi by the name of Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den.
I remember how in 8th grade history class, an American kid in some discussion said how our (Western) languages are so much better than their (Chinese-based) languages, and the teacher responded with: I wouldn’t say better, I would say different. Honestly, that kid has a point. Don’t get me wrong. I much appreciate the aesthetic beauty of the Chinese language. I’m the complete opposite of all those idiot ABCs who refuse to learn it. But no one can really deny that the lack of an alphabet made progress significantly harder in many ways for Chinese civilization. Not just literacy. Printing was so much harder to develop, though that is now a solved problem, thanks much to this guy. There is also that Sogou’s Chinese OCR, which I just tried, basically doesn’t work. Of course, nobody really worries about this now, unlike in the older days. In the early 20th century, there were prominent Chinese intellectuals like Qian Xuantong (钱玄同) who advocated for the abolishment of Chinese characters. Moreover, early on in the computer era, people were worried that Chinese characters would be a problem for it.
In any case, unless I am presented with something substantially better, I can only conclude that any claim, such as this one, that computers now rival humans at speech is bullshit. I was telling a guy yesterday that AI is only as a good as your training data. It cannot really learn autonomously. There will be edge cases in less restricted contexts (unlike in chess and go, where there are very precisely defined rules) such as a computer vision and speech recognition obvious to a human that would fool the computer, until the appropriate training data is added for said edge case and its associates. Analogously, there has been a near perpetual war between CAPTCHA generators and bots over the past few decades, with more sophisticated arsenals developed by both sides over time. Technical, mathematically literate people, so long as they take a little time to learn the most commonly used AI models and algorithms, all know. Of course, there will always be AI bureaucrats/salesmen conning the public/investors to get more funding and attention to their field.
Don’t get me wrong. I still find the results in AI so far very impressive. Google search uses AI algorithms to find you the most relevant content, and now deep learning is being applied to extract information directly from image context itself, vastly improving image search. I can imagine in a decade we’ll have the same for video working relatively well. To illustrate this, China now has face recognition deployed on a wide scale. This could potentially be used to search for all the videos a specific person appears in by computationally scanning through all videos in the index, and indexing corresponding between specific people and times in specific videos. Of course, much of the progress has been driven by advances in hardware (GPUs in particular) which enable 100x+ speedup in the training time. AI is mostly an engineering problem. The math behind it is not all that hard, and in fact, relatively trivial compared to much of what serious mathematicians do. Backpropagation, the idea and mathematical model behind deep learning that was conceived in the 80s or even 70s in the academic paper setting but far too computationally costly to implement at that time on real world data, is pretty straightforward and nowhere near the difficulty of many models for theoretical physics developed long ago. What’s beautiful about AI is that simple models often work sufficiently well for certain types problems so long as the training data and computational power is there.
I accidentally stuffed my face last night and found myself too uncomfortable from that to do anything productive, to my great disappointment. So I verged onto non-technical topics again, and in particular, I reflected somewhat on my personal experience growing up as a Chinese immigrant kid in America, and I write this with a hope that it might be inspiring to others with a similar background.
I wrote the following over a month ago. I was quite pleased, because it was the first time I actually spoke Russian to the point of being able to carry on a passable conversation. Of course, English words were interspersed here and there, but it wasn’t too bad. I was excited enough afterwards that I wrote this piece, which almost certainly has some errors, which I expect to pick out over time. Not to toot my own horn too much, but this is not a bad result after a little over a year of reading and Facebook pinging in it off and on, when I feel too lazy to do anything more productive. Russian learning wise, it was also awesome to meet online this guy, an undergraduate at MIT in physics Индийского присхождения, a child prodigy who taught himself Russian in high school, who also spent a summer in St. Petersburg if I remember correctly. He is obviously much better at it than I am, but I expect to catch up soon. It will only become easier and easier over time. Maybe I can even write some music with lyrics in it, eventually, who knows.
I had the pleasure to read parts of Understanding Human History: An Analysis Including the Effects of Geography and Differential Evolution by Michael H. Hart. He has astrophysics PhD from Princeton, which implies that he is a serious intellectual, though it doesn’t seem like he was quite so brilliant that he could do good research in theoretical physics, though an unofficial source says he worked at NASA and was a physics professor at Trinity University who picked up a law degree along the way. I would estimate that intellectually, he is Steve Hsu level, perhaps a little below, though surely in the high verbal popularization aspect, he is more prolific, as evidenced by that book, among many others, such as one on the 100 most influential historical figures. He is active in white separatist causes (heh) and appears to have had ties with the infamous and now deceased Rushton.
I figured that as interested in Jews and Jewish achievement (and shenanigans) as I am, I should at least learn something real about Israel, which I know little about at the detailed factual level. That part of the world has, predictably, always felt rather remote in my life, though it is in some sense the cradle of civilization. While on the bus with nothing to do, I was just last week, trolling some of my friends on Facebook with some Hebrew I copy pasted. Like, ברוך השם (Baruch HaShem), which literally means “blessed his name.” On that I’m pleased to say that I’m now sort of paying attention to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet when I visit English Wiki pages on Jewish matters with the English transliteration of Hebrew words alongside the Hebrew original. It’s kind of cute that it, like Arabic, reads right to left, a fact I had not known.