Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


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In The Meantime

I am working on a slightly longer blog about deep fakes. But it needs a bit more work. In the meantime, here’s my little old man looking a fool. His name is Henry, but since starting the Game of Thrones books I have taken to calling him Lord Tubbing Prince of Purrs and Petulance.


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Runs With Scissors

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. This thought comes to me often when I encounter new tech. At the dawn of the internet era I thought easy and instance access to information would unquestionably make the world a better place. I thought democratizing the ability to produce content would usher in a new time with vibrant and healthy discussion. 

Instead we have anti-vaxxers and trolls. The democratizing of voices has primarily revealed that many of us are cruel and stupid. Throwing off the gate-keepers of information has left each of us struggling to sift the good content out of the oceans and oceans of bad one google search at a time. Because it turns out that creating good content is hard and being kind isn’t our first instincts, and when you’ve got a little glowing screen in your hand it doesn’t draw the best from us. 

Watching this play out in real time has made me ask a new question when assessing new tech. That new question is what is the worst that this thing might accomplish if used or abused. Enter deepfakes. In summary, artificial intelligence can produce believable video and audio that is fictitious. Have a look at Steve Buscemi’s face on Jennifer Lawrence’s body with her voice if you want to have nightmares. If you want to read more about deepfakes have a look at this article about it from The Guardian

Can you imagine a video of Elizabeth Warren surfacing on election night saying something super racist? Because I can. Sure the video will be debunked pretty quickly. But that sort of thing would spread like wildfire on social media and leave negative emotions that I don’t believe a debunking will clear off immediately. 

We only see the benefits of new tech. We never consider the costs. The guys who developed the deepfake tech did so for the movie industry. They hope to make post production fixes without calling the actors back to reshoot. They hope to better match visuals to translations into different languages. Sure. That’s all good. 

But my god. We already cannot align on what reality is. How can you in good conscience put something else out in the world that will only make truth less and less clear? 


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Seeing With My Eyes – Squirrel Edition

I cannot believe that I am this many days old and have only now learned that squirrels make leaf nests in trees. They make them when there’s no hollowed out little nooks in trees available. I only know this now because I’ve just Googled this topic. But mere moments ago, I had no idea squirrels, creatures that I adore, make nests out of leaves and branches.

I’ve noticed what appear to be big balls of leaves and twigs in a number of trees surrounding our house. I’ve wondered over them. They are too big and look too messy to be birds’ nests. They almost look haphazard enough to be a collection of branches that just got stuck together, but they are a bit too dense for that explanation.

I came about this revelation moments ago. Motion outside my office window drew my eye. I looked and saw a squirrel running across a branch carrying a twig a bit larger than itself with multiple leaves hanging off of it. It ran to one of these bunches of leaves and twigs, disappeared in it, deposited the branch and leaves, and scurried back out. Within moments he was back with another mouthful of tree detritus.

I was astonished and tickled. Partially, I was astonished that this explanation for the leaf balls is so obvious, that I’m not sure how I missed it. Partially, I was astonished to learn that I had no idea where squirrels slept and was blissfully unaware of this gap in knowledge. I was tickled to watch a squirrel build his nest. And I was tickled to encounter my own ignorance of my gaps in knowledge, as discussed in yesterday’s blog post.


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How We Change

This is the best thing I have ever heard on how we change our minds. Spoiler alert: it’s not by producing facts that support the opposing position. Studies show that actually triggers a backfire effect that makes the person cling tighter to their belief. This is one of the main reasons I have mostly stopped arguing with people. Occasionally, I will argue not for the benefit of the person I am directly interacting with, but the people who are reading or watching.

Link to How to Change Your Mind Episode of the Freakonomics podcast.

There are two things in there that fascinate me. First, that we have a weakness that we adopt other’s knowledge as our own. This leads us to overestimate how much we know. This weakness can be rooted out if we force ourselves to think step by step how a thing works. Once we confront that we cannot do this task we update our mental model and mark down how well we understand a thing.

The other thing that interested me was that the most effective way to open someone to changing their mind is to ask them to take the opposing view from their own. I just wonder if getting in this head space just breaks down some barriers in our heads to stop thinking of those opposed to us as others, but forces us to think of them as us. I’m just wondering does this work because it pries us out of our tribes?


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More On Music

There’s evidence that we stop enjoying novelty as we age. Check out this or this. This expiration date for enjoying new things seems to exist in animals as well as humans. It seems that this desire for novelty in humans and animals corresponds to when they seek mates.

It’s entirely possible that’s why I haven’t enjoyed new music for the last 5 years. Maybe I should just feel happy that I made it to 38 before I lost this part of myself. I think the most disturbing aspect of this explanation is figuring out how to disentangle my sense of identity from music. It’s been one of the most consistent and strong parts of who I am since childhood.

But there’s another explanation that I referenced in my last blog post. As noted my disengagement from new music started around the same time I started playing drums. And as I have cultivated a more sensitive sense of time, I am wondering if I can hear music that has digital time vs music that has human time, or music that’s been digitally synched to have precise and accurate time to the millisecond vs the natural variations in time that a human drummer can keep.

I stumbled upon this theory while filpping dials on the radio. I came across a song that I could not flip past even though I didn’t recognize it. After a minute of listening, I heard a subtle inconsistency on the drums that lead me to believe it was a live recording. The crowd noise that came in at the chorus confirmed it. And despite the recording not being particularly good or to my personal taste, I was engrossed. I cannot put words to why I was so captivated.

It only occured to me later, that perhaps I was captivated by hearing the slight variations of a human drummer. My theory is strengthened by my sudden interest in 70’s rock. While I had respect for Queen, Fleetwood Mac, Three Dog Night, and Led Zeppelin, I’ve found myself extrememly eager to hear them on the radio. Synching to click tracks didn’t become prevalent until the 80’s and 90’s in music production; technology to execute the synching wasn’t readily available until then. So, I suspect my sudden interest in 70’s rock might also be my ear longing to hear slight variation.

I am not alone in being hungry for human time. The trans godmother of electronic music says:

“I find it a great tragedy that the drum machine has replaced real drummers, become so omnipresent to many listeners that they accept the notion of a completely rigid, fascist beat–something that’s like hearing a pile driver or factory equipment. Someone recently closed his jazz club in Berlin after being successful for a lot of years, but he said he’s leaving it now because the current jazz/pop music doesn’t swing. And it doesn’t: quantized rhythm is rigid and mechanical. We’ve become robots, and it’s tragic.” -Wendy Carlos

This woman is fascinating. You can read the whole interview here.

For now I am going to lean in to my new found love of 70’s rock. Life is too short for me to force myself to listen to things that don’t inspire me. Is it because I am too old to hear new music? Maybe. Is it because my ears are tired of the fascist beat? Maybe. Does it really matter which? Probably not. I needed to shed more of my ego anyway. I’ll just look at this as a step on the path.


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Music Sickness

I can mark every era of my life with music. High school was big-hair rock and alt rock like Depeche Mode, New Order and The Smiths just as grunge was exploding. College was They Might Be Giants, Stef’s 80’s compilation CD, and angsty Lillith Fair music. My Starbucks years brought me Ani DiFranco, Miles Davis, Neko Case, Suicide Machines, and NOFX. Citibank was for Dashboard Confessional, The Postal Sevice, Arcade Fire, and Interpol. And later The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, Band of Horses, Rubblebucket, and Tycho.

But there’s been nothing new for the last 5 years. I have listened. But nothing has grabbed me the way new music used to.

Without my primary emotional outlet and touchstone, I am adrift. Maybe I have hit the age where I cannot connect with new music. Maybe there’s some trend in production that my ear just doesn’t like.

Lately I am drawn to music from the 70’s that I never used to favor. I get excited when Three Dog Night or Fleetwood Mac comes across my dial. It’s got me thinking.

I started drum lessons 4 years ago. I am wondering if I am sensitive to something that I wasn’t before. Am I hearing time that’s been synched to a click track (digital time) vs human time.

More on this to come…


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See With Your Eyes

I am a third of the way through the second Game Of Thrones book, A Clash Of Kings. Arya’s sword fighting teacher says to her, “See with your eyes.” This phrase returns to her on several occasions when there are conclusions her mind would rather jump to than see what is in reality before her.

That we see what we want to rather than what is has been on my mind. But I only just connected this thought to something that’s been troubling me for months. It’s been hard for me to reconcile people I know to be honest and hardworking and their support of 45. And it’s been hard to understand why if you value hard work you might value someone who regularly shafts his business partners. It’s hard to understand why if you value hard work you might value a person who has profited off obvious scams. Trump University was quite clearly a scam, even if you refuse to acknowledge that his real estate business most closely resembles a Ponzi scheme.

My working theory to explain this has been that they just aren’t looking at inconvenient facts. Or that their media preferences ensure they never see these facts at all. But another theory altogether has arisen in its place. What if the American myth around hard work is the con? What if this has been the lie deeply embedded in the American myth deployed at anyone without hope to distract them into endless toil?

And perhaps 45’s people believe themselves in on the con. And they will say the words to further the myth. But that’s all they are, words, not deeds. Ironically, I think his people are at once in on the con and the marks, but that’s really beside the point.

If the founding father’s really believed in hard work what exactly did they need slaves for? Why wasn’t Thomas Jefferson out there tilling his own fields? If hard work really purifies the soul, I don’t know why they enslaved others to do all the heavy lifting.

One of the aspects of 45’s presidency that I personally find fatiguing, is that I keep stumbling over American ideals and finding them facades papering over the enshrined right of the powerful to exploit the weak. In some ways it reminds me of losing my faith. I never lost faith in The Beatitudes. I never lost faith in the golden rule. I just saw with my eyes that some of the very people espousing these things to me do not practice them. I shed the naïve belief that people using these words would in fact keep them in good faith.