The Great DebAIte

Good news on the human-interaction-with-AI front this week. In a piece headlined “Mind over Chatter in AI Contest” for the enewspaper outlet of the Los Angeles Times, writers Olivia Carville and Jeremy Kahn reported, in the subhead, “A human champion debates against IBM’s artificial intelligence system and wins — but barely.”

Snowswept beach; February 12, 2019. —A. Botsford Photo

This somewhat reassuring news item was forwarded to At Quaquanantuck by faithful reader and, until recently, longtime devoted Quogue resident Bill Happel—who, sadly, recently sold the family stake in our village and fled the jurisdiction for points in the Pacific Northwest.

Playing on our fears of dealing with an intelligent machine a la HAL 9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey” was this sentence near the top of the article: “IBM’s machine, known formally as Project Debater, kicked off Monday’s matchup with a cheeky greeting: ‘I have heard you hold the world record in debate competition wins against humans, but I suspect you have never debated a machine. Welcome to the future.’”

sunswept Feb 13
Sunswept seas; February 13, 2019. —A. Botsford Photo

Perhaps the most salient, and encouraging, point made in the article might be this observation: “The biggest advantage any human holds over Project Debater is the ability to deliver speech with emotion — wielding tone, inflection, pitch and pauses to sway an audience.”

In the conclusion, one of the developers of Project Debater (“affectionately dubbed ‘Miss Debater’”) remarked on the AI achievement: “Think about it for a moment. We don’t often see a machine having an intelligent discussion with a human for 25 minutes.” 

To which At Quaquanantuck would add: In these days of fragmentation and atomization—short attention span, texts preferred over phone conversations, positions laid out and argued in 280 characters—we all too rarely see a human having an intelligent discussion with another human for 25 minutes.

Ice Castle RC
Ice castle. —Rosemary Cline Photo

Getting in Touch with Your Green Side (It’s Easier than You Think) 
For those who are looking to reduce their dietary carbon footprint—and who isn’t these days?—faithful correspondent Lulie Morrisey points out that shoppers might not realize that it’s better to buy the tomato (or other fruit) trucked in from Mexico than the one grown in a Canada hothouse. Even though shipped farther, the southern tomatoes have a smaller footprint because it takes a lot of energy to keep a greenhouse warm during the cold months.

The best option, of course, is to buy neither: stick to root vegetables, winter squash and hearty greens at this time of year, and wait for the luscious tomatoes of summer (beefsteaks and heirlooms and cherries, oh my!) right here on the East End.

Fairy Dell Judge
Fairy Dell sunset; February 10, 2019. —Geoff Judge Photo

Winter Fireside Poetry for the Entire Family at Wildlife Refuge
The QWR will present an an afternoon of poetry reading fireside in the Nature Center on Saturday, February 16, from 4 to 5:30 p.m., hosted by local poet and published author Maggie Bloomfield.  

The open reading for poets, listeners, and friends means that one and all are invited to bring a poem of their own, a favorite by someone else, or a very short essay to read, or just to come out to enjoy a warm winter respite. All ages, especially children, are invited to read.

The topic for the event is “Celebrating Nature and Our Local Environment.” Cookies and tea will be served, and there will be a short intermission. Registration is preferred for this family friendly event; call 631-653-4771.

Winter Wildlife Camp Returns to Refuge for Schools’ February Recess
There are still a few days left to sign up children for the Winter Wildlife Camp offered during the upcoming February school recess at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge.

Illustrating the definition of “happy campers” at previous Winter Wildlife Camps at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge. —Photos courtesy of QWR

This popular camp program—running from Tuesday through Friday, February 19 to 22, with sessions of different duration offered—is for kids age 5 to 11. The morning session starts at 9 a.m. and ends at noon; the full-day session also starts at 9 a.m. and runs until 3 p.m. each day.

Both sessions of the camp’s well documented “amazing experience” provide three hours of immersion in wildlife, education and an abundance of “fun.”

A hike and a craft will be offered each day, so parents are asked to dress the young outdoorspersons for the weather. In addition, all campers should bring an individual snack and drink each day, plus lunch for those who are signed up for the 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. extended session.

In addition to other activities, during the daily “animal encounter” children will be able to feed and handle some of the animals that live in the Nature Center.

The morning session fee is $45 per day, or $150 for the four-day program. The extended session fee is $90 per day or $330 for the four-day program. Registration and payment are required in advance. Registration and payment are required in advance; call 653-4771. For more information, visit or call 653-4771.

Hike by the Light of the Full Snow Moon
The February Full Snow Moon Night Hike at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge will be offered on Tuesday, February 19, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

The Full Snow Moon got its name from Native American tribes of the north and east who saw that the heaviest snow of the winter typically falls during this lunar month. There are two weeks remaining to see if 2019 fits the pattern.

During the 90-minute walk through the forest up to North Pond and back, adults and families with children age 11 and up will look and listen for nocturnal creatures whilst enjoying some night vision activities under the light of the moon.

This program is free for Wildlife Refuge members. Online registration is not available for this program; reservations are required, by calling 631-653-4771 at least 24 hours in advance, along with payment of the $5 fee for non-members.

When Vandals Strike, Everybody Loses
At first, probably the only people who knew something was amiss at the village’s Wetlands Preserve (on the bay side of Dune Road a bit east of the Village Beach) were those who regularly walk through the gate at all times of year and walk out on the spectacular boardwalk, across marshy estuary grasses and mosquito ditches flushed by the tides, across sandy stretches dotted with scrub pines all the way down to the shore.

Preserve Police Line
Village Police had to resort to active crime scene tape (“Police Line Do Not Cross”) recently to keep visitors away from the defiled Wetlands Preserve on the bay side of Dune Road. —A. Botsford Photo

These visitors noticed because, at first, in the fall of 2018, the gate was locked. After it became clear that people were willing to hop the fence in order to: a. see what was going on that required locking the gate; and/or b. to take their accustomed stroll or walking meditation on the boardwalk, the Village Police put up a No Trespassing sign. And still people clambered over the fence and walked out into the Preserve.

That’s when the police opted to put up the “Police Line Do Not Cross” crime scene tape to block off the parking area. A call to the mayor’s office yielded the information that a person or persons unknown had kicked out or otherwise knocked out the railings that are essential for safety as well as liability reasons on the elevated sections of the boardwalk that cross over mosquito ditches and areas that are underwater at high tide.

W Preserve Jan 2017
Wetlands Preserve boardwalk; January 2017. —A. Botsford Photo

Mayor Peter Sartorius assured At Quaquanantuck that village crews will be repairing the railings and he expects the Preserve to be open again sometime this spring. Meanwhile, the materials have to be obtained, the crews have to do the repair work, and a beautiful resource in our village cannot be used for, at minimum, two seasons out of four. Not to mention the karmic cost to those misguided, disrespectful, senselessly destructive blackguards who wreaked the damage in the first place.

At Quaquanantuck encourages readers to send in news and notes and photos of interest to Quogue residents, even if the items are being sent from winter addresses or other parts of the country. Friends and family who enjoy all things Quogue are encouraged to email and ask to be put on the mailing list.



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