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Post from Mastersley Ferry-the Green

Friday, 21 July, 2017 0 Comments

Monday’s post here, The AI Apocalypse: Warning No. 702, was about artificial intelligence (AI) and Elon Musk’s alarming statement: “It is the biggest risk that we face as a civilization.” As we pointed out, fans of AI say such concerns are hasty.

Dan Hon is a fan of AI and he’s just trained a neural network to generate British placenames. How? Well, he gave his AI a list of real placenames and it then brainstormed new names based on the patterns it found in the training list. As Hon says, “the results were predictable.” Sample:

Mastersley Ferry-the Green
Borton Bittefell
Hisillise St Marsh
Westington-courding
Holtenham Stye’s Wood Icklets
West Waplest Latford
Fackle Village
Undwinton Woathiston
Thorton Stowin
Sketton Brittree
Ham’s Courd
Matton Oston


The race for la lanterne rouge

Thursday, 20 July, 2017 0 Comments

La lanterne rouge is the French term for the competitor in last place in the Tour de France. Currently, the “honour” is held by Luke Rowe from Team Sky, which is quite astonishing as his teammate Chris Froome leads the field. Clearly, the media-savvy Sky wants to hoover up all the publicity, from start to finish, from top to tail.

The race for the lanterne rouge among the tour teams has come down to three: Team Dimension Data, Team Katusha Alpecin and Team FDJ. Of the three, Team Dimension Data is the most fascinating as its sponsor is working on transforming the Tour into a Big Data project. Actually, the proper name of the team is “Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka, Africa’s first UCI World Tour Team racing to mobilise change in Africa, one bicycle at a time.” Qhubeka is a charity that gives bicycles to young people in Africa and, as we know, mobility is vital for the development of every society.

Today: Stage 18 from Briançon to Col d’Izoard. The ascent of this legendary Alp will be crucial to determining the winner of this year’s Tour.


Gin: Friedrichs

Wednesday, 19 July, 2017 0 Comments

Shouldn’t that be “Friedrich’s”? Asks the punctuation pedant. Actually, no. You see, Friedrichs Dry Gin is German and the German language doesn’t do the possessive form as English does by suffixing a morpheme, represented orthographically as ‘s.

Geographically, Friedrichs comes from Steinhagen, which is located on the southern slope of the legendary Teutoburg Forest, and the town is famous for its Steinhäger, a Schnapps flavoured with juniper berries and traditionally sold in long brown earthenware bottles. Given the current popularity of gin, it’s not surprising that the distillers of Steinhagen put 2 + 2 together and came up with Friedrichs Dry Gin, and the bottle design they picked is meant to reflect the tradition of the old earthenware ones. Obviously, optics are just as important as orthography on a crowded spirits shelf.

And the gin itself? On the nose, juniper takes a background positon, surprisingly, given the Steinhagen juniper history. The more prominent botanicals include orange blossoms, coriander, angelica, rosemary and a hint of the laraha citrus fruit, which is grown on the island of Curaçao. In other words, Friedrichs is floral and herbal. On the palate, the taste is herbaceous and earthy and green. Taken straight on ice, the orange aroma fades and the juniper comes to the fore. This is a intricate gin and a welcome addition to the family.

Friedrichs Dry Gin


Jane Austen endures and entertains

Tuesday, 18 July, 2017 0 Comments

“How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” — Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Two-hundred years ago today, 18 July 1817, Jane Austen departed this world, taken by a mysterious illness. She was just 41 years old.

Two-hundred years later, she has never been more alive, more popular, more relevant.

The novelist who gave us Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy — the mismatched lovers of Pride and Prejudice — is as endurable as Shakespeare. The eternal entertainment she created in a handful of Regency novels is based on life’s fundamentals: society, money, friendship, love, marriage, pride, prejudice, vanity and all the other shortcomings of human nature. Our world, with its excesses of sex and suicide bombers, appears deranged by comparison and the difference is that in Austen’s world decorum dominates while restraint rules. People observe a code of behaviour, especially regarding feelings and in what they are allowed to say. We don’t face such restrictions. We can say whatever we want. And we do. “Angry people are not always wise,” Austen noted, wisely, in Pride and Prejudice.

“Jane Austen was born before those bonds which (we are told) protected women from truth, were burst by the Brontës or elaborately untied by George Eliot. Yet the fact remains that Jane Austen knew more about men than either of them. Jane Austen may have been protected from truth: but it was precious little of truth that was protected from her.” — G.K. Chesterton


The AI Apocalypse: Warning No. 702

Monday, 17 July, 2017 0 Comments

Elon Musk has said it before and now he’s saying it again. We need to wise up to the dangers of artificial intelligence (AI). Speaking at the National Governors Association meeting in Rhode Island at the weekend, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX said that AI will threaten all human jobs and could even start a war.

“It is the biggest risk that we face as a civilization,” he said.

Musk helped create OpenAI, a non-profit group dedicated to the safe development of the technology and he’s now urging that a regulatory agency be formed that will monitor AI developments and then put regulations in place. Fans of AI say such concerns are hasty, given its evolving state.

Note: Open AI and Google’s DeepMind released three papers last week — “Producing flexible behaviours in simulated environments” — highlighting an experimental machine learning system that used human teamwork to help an AI decide the best way to learn a new task. For one experiment, humans provided feedback to help a simulated robot learn how to do a backflip. The human input resulted in a successful backflip with under an hour of feedback, compared to the two hours of coding time an OpenAI researcher needed which, by the way, produced an inferior backflip to the human-trained one.

Is this important? Yes, because evidence is emerging that an AI can do some tasks better with human instruction — from cleaning someone’s home to learning a patient’s unique care needs. OpenAI hopes that if we can “train” AI to work closely with humans, we’ll be able to moderate some of the potential downsides of the technology. Like replacing journalists or starting a war.


Light and darkness

Sunday, 16 July, 2017 0 Comments

“There were a billion lights out there on the horizon and I knew that all of them put together weren’t enough to light the darkness in the hearts of some men.” — Michael Connelly, The Scarecrow.

Evil and evil


Fionn Regan meets Thomas Moore in Wicklow

Saturday, 15 July, 2017 0 Comments

Inspired by a visit to the Vale of Avoca in County Wicklow some 200 years ago, the bard Thomas Moore wrote a song called The Meeting of the Waters. Snippet:

“Sweet vale of Avoca! How calm could I rest
In thy bosom of shade, with the friends I love best
Where the storms that we feel in this cold world should cease
And our hearts, like thy waters, be mingled in peace.”

The Irish singer-songwriter Fionn Regan was born and raised in Wicklow and he released his debut album, The End of History, in 2006. Now, more than a decade later, he’s back with The Meetings of the Waters and the video is enhanced with the sculpted features of the actor Cillian Murphy of Peaky Blinders fame.


Vive la France!

Friday, 14 July, 2017 0 Comments

It’s the #jourdebastille and there are many reasons to celebrate it. For example, the 13th stage of the Tour de France from Saint-Girons to Foix. It’s being described as “brutal”, which should add to the enjoyment. Then we’ve got the Trump, l’« ami » américain de Macron bonding in Paris, and there’s always that classic scene from Casablanca when Rick Blaine, owner of the Café Américain, asks the house band to play La Marseillaise.


Gin: Blackwater No.5

Thursday, 13 July, 2017 1 Comment

Famed for its salmon runs, the Blackwater River rises on the Cork-Kerry border and flows east into Waterford before entering the Celtic Sea area of the Atlantic Ocean at Youghal. Along its meander, it passes by the town of Cappoquin, home of the Blackwater Distillery, which produces Blackwater No. 5, a recent addition to the Irish gin spectrum.

Before the botanicals, the optics. The elegant rectangular bottle comes with an embedded map of the region. This attractive detail is an argument for repurposing the bottle as a paperweight or a container for a sprig of juniper. And talking of juniper, it’s very up-front here, along with hints of lemon balm, lavender and lots of other delicate botanicals. The result is a subtle, serious gin that rewards regular tasting. Those looking for a refreshing twist on the traditional G&T might consider a decent measure of Blackwater No. 5 with a slice of pink grapefruit and a top-up of Poacher’s Well tonic water from nearby Wexford. Now we’re hurlin’, as they say in the sunny South-East.

Blackwater No.5


Low carbs at the Fish & Chip Bar in Cardiff

Wednesday, 12 July, 2017 0 Comments

The do like their bars in Wales. And not just for pints of Brains and Tiny Rebel. At the Fish & Chip Bar in Cardiff the emphasis is on low carbs. Just one chip!

Cardiff


Apple and the War of the Ems and the Ens

Tuesday, 11 July, 2017 0 Comments

In short: Apple’s upcoming iOS 11 will replace the convention of typing two hyphens to obtain a “long dash”, the so-called em dash —. So today, if you type – – it’s turned into —. With iOS 11, however, two hyphens become the shorter en dash: –. And to get an em dash, you’ll have to type three hyphens - - -.

Is this important? Glenn Fleishman thinks it is and he has devoted a detailed post to the matter. His conclusion: This change appears in the beta release of iOS 11, so it may not end up in the final version later this year.

By the way, the most famous em dash user was Emily Dickinson, who employed it in her poetry to emphasize emotion and punctuation —

Luck is not chance

Luck is not chance—
It’s Toil—
Fortune’s expensive smile
Is earned—
The Father of the Mine
Is that old-fashioned Coin
We spurned—

Emily Dickinson (1830 — 1886)