“AI” and cheating

Oh Wired:

For years, students have turned to CliffsNotes for speedy reads of books, SparkNotes to whip up talking points for class discussions, and Wikipedia to pad their papers with historical tidbits. But today’s students have smarter tools at their disposal—namely, Wolfram|Alpha, a program that uses artificial intelligence to perfectly and untraceably solve equations. Wolfram|Alpha uses natural language processing technology, part of the AI family, to provide students with an academic shortcut that is faster than a tutor, more reliable than copying off of friends, and much easier than figuring out a solution yourself.

This is gibberish. If the main form of cheating is solving equations, the NLP front end is largely irrelevant. It’s not very good either. Indeed, the article goes on to say it’s not very AIy:

The system is constrained by the limits of its data library: It can’t interpret every question. It also can’t respond in natural language, or what a human would recognize as conversational speech. This is a stumbling block in AI in general. Even Siri, which relies heavily on Mathematica—another Wolfram Research product and the engine behind Wolfram|Alpha—can only answer questions in programmed response scripts, which are like a series of Mad Libs into which it plugs answers before spitting them out of your speaker or onto your screen.

Alpha indeed makes Mathematica more accessible (if only by price!) which makes it easier to use for cheating. But afaict this is a web and economic change, not an “AI” change.

And of course there’s the standard Wolfram silliness. Alpha was crazily hyped when it came out but it really isn’t all that. The denials of Wolfram and his employees are hilarious:

Alan Joyce, the director of content development for Wolfram Alpha, says that cheating is “absolutely the wrong way to look at what we do.” But the staff understands what might make teachers uncomfortable. Historically, education had to emphasize hand calculations, says John Dixon, a program manager at Wolfram Research.

Suuuure dude. Sure. And:

Indeed, the people who are directing the tool’s development view it as an educational equalizer that can give students who don’t have at-home homework helpers—like tutors or highly educated and accessible parents—access to what amounts to a personal tutor. It also has enormous potential within the classroom. A “show steps” button, which reveals the path to an answer, allows teachers to break down the components of a problem, rather than getting bogged down in mechanics. The “problem generator” can pull from real datasets to create relevant examples. “When you start to show educators the potential,” Dixon says, “you can see points where their eyes light up.”

This isn’t reporting. They don’t interview educators (except a random Prof of Astronomy). They don’t talk to people trying to cope with the cheating. They don’t look at anything except Wolfram propaganda.


Music Monday: Another World

Week 3 of the Whistle Down the Wind review. This week, “Another World”:

So, this is great! The arrangement is awesome in every respect. The percussive guitar gives it a subdued but effective and strong texture (yes! paradoxical). It works very well in concert:

I really like the song. The lyrics are good though not always fully coherent. Consider the last verse (which is one of the most organised):

I need another place
Will there be peace?
I need another world
This one’s nearly gone
I’m gonna miss the birds
Singing all their songs
I’m gonna miss the wind
It’s been kissing me so long
Another World

The first two lines don’t really parallel the others.

In any case, I find the Baez version to be in every way superior to the original:

This version is overwrought and unfortunately sentimental. Baez’s is starker, tauter, and more matter of fact which gives it a brutality that fits the lyrics better.

Seeing Baez in Edinburgh

Zoe came home and read all the This Week in Zoe Newses and decided she couldn’t wait until May to see Baez in concert. So we’re in Edinburgh with our comped tickets and backstage aftershow passes. There was snow!

Update: They put the spotlight on Zoe and had her stand up! People wrote her notes and thanked her. Here’s Zoe nervously waiting to go backstage.

It was awesome! Zoe got two, really long, hugs and I got one short one!

This Week In Zoe News #8: CBS Sunday News!

Ack! This will go up by the hair of my chinny chinny chin! Yeek!

Things are settling down. There’s some new reviews, but the big event was a segment on CBS News Sunday morning that played a bit of “The President Sang Amazing Grace”. That drove a lot of action!

Well, that’s one big event. The other big one is that Zoe is back in Manchester! Yay! We’re going up to Edinburgh to see (and meet) Baez this weekend.

Key quote: fRoots calls Zoe an “undersung songwriter”. So true!


CBS News Sunday Morning (starts at 3:06)

“Some of the songs on your new album are certainly politically tinged.”

“Tainted!” she laughed.

Songs like Zoe Mulford’s “The President Sang Amazing Grace” — reflecting on President Obama’s surprising eulogy after the 2015 Charleston church shooting:

“The President came to speak some words
and the cameras rolled and the nation heard.
But no words could say what must be said,
for all the living and the dead.
So on that day and in that place
the president sang ‘Amazing Grace.’”

There’s also a pretty big New York Times profile of Baez. No Zoe mention, but Rhiannon got a nice quote:

Her commitment certainly remains a model for the generations that have followed. “For anybody interested in social justice, she is a great beacon,” said the singer-songwriter Rhiannon Giddens in a telephone interview. “It’s very inspiring as a female artist to see how she has done things on her own terms and become a byword for musical activism.”


This week we get some serious chart action. Here’s a summary from
Grateful Web:

Whistle Down The Wind, the highly anticipated new album from Joan Baez, debuts this week at #18 on Billboard’s Top Current Albums chart and #4 on the Americana/Folk Albums chart—Baez’s strongest chart position since 1975’s Diamonds & Rust. The album is also finding success internationally debuting at #47 in the U.K., #36 in France, #6 in Sweden and #8 in Germany.

In the UK, she seems to have [peaked at] 31(http://www.officialcharts.com/charts/albums-chart-update/20180305/7502u/) on all albums before dropping off this week. In Americana, she’s at 4, down from 2.

Whistle Down the Wind was also 104 on the Billboard top 200.

On the Folk DJ list, Whistle was 22th in Feb, which, considering it wasn’t even released then, is pretty good! Small Brown Birds was at 54.

After the CBS segment, there was a burst of buying Baez on iTunes which pushed “President” up to 13 on the folk chart for a while. All Baez dropped off that chart as of this writing.

Album Reviews

Fabrizio Zampa for Spettacoli e Cultura (via Google Translate):

Let’s move on to The President Sang Amazing Grace , which tells of when, after the 1995 massacre in Charleston, South Carolina (where the twenty-one-year-old Dylann Storm Roof killed nine African Americans in the church, including the Reverend and Democratic Senator Clementa Pinckney ), President Obama was at the forefront of Pinckney’s funeral and sang with the church choir Amazing Grace, famous Christian hymn written in the 18th century by Englishman John Newton. It was one of the many moments in which Obama, without predicting that Donald Trump would arrive, continued his battle against the weapons, and the Englishman Zoe Mulford wrote a song that told that day. «It’s a small song that won me over immediately, both for the story that it tells, and for the memory of an extraordinary moment – says Baez. – When I first heard it on the radio, I had to stop the car because I had started crying, and when I decided to put it on the record and tried the chords on the guitar, I kept crying. In the recording studio, I tried to keep my cry out, I looked at my musicians and I said, boys, let’s go to church. Yup,

Here, this short story would be enough to understand that the eternal girl Joan is still today a fundamental figure of that author music that really means something. Several musicians play with her, including her son Gabe Harris on percussion, but the ability of producer Joe Henry has made it a simple, elegant, without forcing album, in which there is only her first piano, and even if the vocality Baez is no longer that of a time we do not even notice, because his presence and his charisma go completely beyond this and any other kind of considerations. Listen to this record, it is a beautiful journey through time not only for those who lived those years but especially for those who have not lived them, that young audience for which Baez is just a piece of history.

Jonathan Frahm for The Young Folks:

Most prevalently, perhaps, is her take on Zoe Mulford’s “The President Sang Amazing Grace”. Sitting patiently at the center of the album as its sixth track, Baez evokes the same heartful power that she has since the start singing these sorts of songs.

Clint Rhodes for the Herald-Standard:

From the gripping “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” written by Zoe Mulford about the tragic 2015 Charleston church shootings to Joe Henry’s “Civil War” detailing how aggression and violence ultimately divides and separates, Baez once again delivers songs that make us think, feel and act.

Ed Jupp for God is in the Vine:

Perhaps the most poignant song on the record is her cover of Zoe Mulford’s ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace.’ The song references the horrific event in 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, when a man opened fire on a prayer meeting at a church meeting, killing nine. With Trump in the White House, and American gun laws proving stubborn to change, it resonates deeply, after yet more school shootings. This connects so well with what Baez has done throughout her entire career – she has used her voice to campaign for the oppressed, marching with Martin Luther King for the Civil Rights movement, campaigning against the Vietnam War, and supporting the Dixie Chicks when they faced a hideous backlash against their stance during the second world war.

Daan Sindelka for Blues Magazine (Google translated from Dutch):

From Civil War – written by her producer Joe Henry – and Zoe Mulfords The President Sang Amazing Grace can be assured with certainty that there is hidden criticism against the current American president Donald Trump.

Sylvain Cormier for Le Devoir

Ce voile dans la voix, ce registre retréci, ces mélodies servies plus bas, cette fragilité qu’on ne lui connaissait pas, moi, ça me plaît. Pour tout dire, ça m’atteint plus que la perfection presque intouchable de son chant d’antan. Il y a une telle tendresse dans cette proximité : Joan Baez a-t-elle été plus émouvante que dans ses relectures de Tom Waits (la chanson-titre et Last Leaf), de Zoe Mulford (l’essentielle The President Sang Amazing Grace), de Mary Chapin Carpenter (The Things that We Are Made Of) ?

Mike Alexander for stuff

At 77, Baez has a gracious soulfulness about her, whether she’s re-interpreting Tom Waits’ Whistle Down The Wind and Last Leaf, Josh Ritter’s gorgeous acoustic ballad Silver Blade or taking a relatively, unknown song such as Zoe Mulford’s haunting The President Sang Amazing Grace (written in the aftermath of the 2015 racially-incited Charleston, South Carolina, shooting in which nine people attending church were gunned down), that powerfully sums up the racial, social and political tensions in the US – something Baez has been doing for six decades.

Lou Montesano for Elmore Magazine

The song that hits most powerfully is Zoe Mulford’s “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” a reference to the 2015 Charleston church shooting: “A young man came to a house of prayer, they did not ask what brought him there. He was not friend, he was not kin, but they opened the door and let him in.” Listening to those words in light of the Parkland school shooting and the debate over gun rights being led so eloquently by high school students is a reminder of youthful passion taking the lead where adults have failed.

David Kidman for fRoots:

The whole collection sounds tailor-made for Baez, and specific highlights come with Tim Eriksen’s I Wish The Wars Were All Over and the disc’s “significant discovery”, the powerful The President Sang Amazing Graceby undersung songwriter Zoë[sic] Mulford.

Concert Reviews

Clive Davis for The Times

Her political idealism certainly seems undimmed. The Times They Are a-Changin’ was dedicated to the school pupils campaigning for a change in America’s gun laws. And if she didn’t mention her country’s president by name — his name, one senses, has become the ultimate swear word — the fact that Barack Obama was the subject of Zoe Mulford’s ballad, The President Sang Amazing Grace, was an eloquent verdict on his successor. Populists, though, would argue that Baez’s homily on refugees and immigrants, delivered between songs, is a gift to the Steve Bannons of this world: “We have so much, they have so little. Let ’em in”

Kirsten Rawlins for the Express and Star

And with that, Joan launched into a spine-tingling, empowering solo rendition of Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A Changin’, showing the songs evergreen validity and timeless power; despite the fact it was released back in 1964.

Another song used in this way by Joan was Zoe Mulford’s The President Sang Amazing Grace, written about President Obama’s visit to the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, following the mass shooting in 2015 – a song which very nearly moved me to tears.


The views keep growing slowly. The Baez version of “President” took over Zoe’s live version.

Video Date Uploaded 04/03/18 07/03/18 09/03/18 16/03/18
Whole Album Mar 2, 2018 7,634 Gone
Whistle Down the Wind Mar 2, 2018 609 1,621 2,390 6,864
Be of Good Heart Mar 2, 2018 860 1,757 2,206 5,017
Another World Mar 2, 2018 275 675 886 2,297
Civil War Mar 2, 2018 360 688 871 2,078
The Things That We Are Made Of Mar 2, 2018 358 837 1,123 2,838
The President Sang Amazing Grace Mar 2, 2018 3,564 6,084 8,088 15,112
Silver Blade Mar 2, 2018 352 775 994 2,499
Last Leaf Mar 2, 2018 265 653 823 1,948
The Great Correction Mar 2, 2018 238 565 727 1,714
I Wish the Wars Were All Over Mar 2, 2018 326 706 936 2,236
The President Sang Amazing Grace (Live) Jan 16, 2017 11,594 12,554 12,841 14,113
Joan Baez en carte blanche : “The president sang amazing grace” Feb 28, 2018 Didn’t Track 4,721 5,027 6,478
Le live : Joan Baez chante “Last Leaf” – C Ă Vous – 20/02/2018 Feb 28, 2018 Didn’t Track 11,921 12,471 14,386
Joan Baez en live – Last leaf Feb 20, 2018 Didn’t Track 4,418 4,598 5,364
Small Brown Birds Album Version Jan 27, 2017 5,423 5,656 5,723 6,133


I’m almost done my horrowshow task so maybe I can get back to having a backlog of posts and write up the ideas I have lingering in the drafts folder…

…but today, it’s another quick hit. Last week, I pointed to pythex, an online regex debugger/IDE/pastebing for Python. This week I found another, regex101.com.

It takes everything a bit farther. It has a little “Explanation” pane with…far…too many colors. It handles several flavors of regex for different languages. It too can save ’em. It’s more cluttered than pythex and if I had to pick only one, it’d be pythex. But the explainer could be useful.

Arthritis (a poem)

This was in my inbox today.

…I look down now
at my knuckly thumbs, my index finger

permanently askew in the same classic
crook as hers, called a swan’s neck,

as if snapped, it’s that pronounced.
Even as I type, wondering how long

I’ll be able to—each joint in my left hand
needing to be hoisted, prodded, into place,

one knuckle like a clock’s dial clicking
as it’s turned to open, bend or unbend.

I balk at the idea that we can overuse
ourselves, must parcel out and pace

our energies so as not to run out of any
necessary component while still alive…

…So much

I still want to do with my hands—
type, play, cook, caress, swipe, re-trace.

It’s that sort of day. Or life.