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Author Archive: Eamonn Fitzgerald

Ex-pat Irishman keeping an eye on the world from the Bavarian side of the Alps.

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Drones for Good: Loon Copter wins $1 million prize

Sunday, 7 February, 2016 0 Comments

The winner of the $1 million prize at the Drones for Good event in Dubai this weekend was the Loon Copter, a prototype drone that can fly, float and swim underwater. Equipped with a “buoyancy chamber” that fills with water, the drone can sink beneath the surface, tilt 90 degrees and use its four rotors to swim around. This piece of ingenuity is the product of the Embedded System Research Lab at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. Its potential uses include searching for sunken objects, environmental monitoring and underwater structure inspection.

The Robotics Award for Good went to SuitX, an exoskeleton system designed to improve the physiological gait development of children. It’s a product of the Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory at the University of California. “SuitX is just one of the companies hoping to boost interest in exoskeleton research,” writes Signe Brewster in MIT Technology Review. “Competing suits like the ReWalk, which costs $70,000 and weighs about 50 pounds, are striving to reduce costs while improving functionality. If exoskeleton makers can drive suit costs down to a few thousand dollars, they could start competing with motorized wheelchairs.”

The winners of the UAE national competition were the BuilDrone team, who designed a drone that can detect and repair leaks in pipelines, and students from Ajman University, who developed a smart guidance system for the blind that assists them in avoiding obstacles using a vibration signals.

Yes, we need to keep a close watch on those nerds, but drones, robots and AI can be, and are, a force for good.


How did the UN get it so wrong on Julian Assange?

Saturday, 6 February, 2016 0 Comments

That’s the question posed by Joshua Rozenberg in the Guardian. “Assange has always been free to leave the embassy at any time,” says Rozenberg, adding: “Of course, he knew he would be arrested for breach of his bail conditions. Of course, he knew he would face extradition to Sweden. Of course, he knew that he might face extradition to the United States once proceedings in Sweden were at an end. But that does not mean he was detained, and still less that his detention was of an arbitrary character.”

Rozenberg outlines the faulty logic of the UN working group, but it is his colleague Marina Hyde who really gets to the heart of the matter with this devastating assessment of Assange: “He can issue limitless portentous statements, and declaim from all the Juliet balconies he likes, but for my money he looks more and more like just another guy failing to face up to a rape allegation.”

Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer for Julian Assange’s alleged victim, named as SW, was as critical of the UN group as she was of the purported rapist. She told the Daily Mirror:

“The panel seems to have a lack of understanding of the fact the alleged rape of a woman is one of the most serious violations and abuses of human rights.

That a man arrested on probable cause for rape should be awarded damages because he has deliberately withheld himself from the judicial system for over five years is insulting and offensive to my client — and all victims.

It is time that Assange packs his bag, steps out of the embassy and begins to cooperate with the Swedish Prosecuting Authority.”

Both the UN and Assange have emerged from this looking shabby and shameless.


Recommended reading

Friday, 5 February, 2016 0 Comments

The reader

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing 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

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something — a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things — which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” — Alan Bennett, The History Boys

“Some of these things are true and some of them lies. But they are all good stories.” — Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall


Cisco + Jasper = $1.4 billion IoT bet

Thursday, 4 February, 2016 0 Comments

Why has Cisco just spent $1.4 billion on acquiring Jasper Technologies, the developer of an Internet of Things cloud platform? $1.4 billion is an awful lot of money and an “Internet of Things cloud platform” sounds very nebulous, so what’s the big deal? Well, for its money Cisco is buying a company that really knows the booming Internet of Things (IoT) industry and that’s a big deal, indeed.

Terminology note: IoT means connected machines talking to one another via the internet. Example: a factory floor equipped with intelligent robots, a road filled with smart cars, a wind farm stocked with connected turbines or a home furnished with thinking thermostats.

Rob Salvagno, Cisco VP of Corporate Business Development, wrote a blog post yesterday stating that “Cisco’s Intent to Acquire Jasper is All About Making IoT Simple, Scalable and Interoperable.” Snippet:

“When I first met the CEO, Jahangir Mohammad, I was immediately impressed with his visionary approach to the opportunities available in IoT and his foresight in building a unique business to capture those opportunities. 10 years ago, when everyone was focused on flip phones and the early adoption of smartphones, Jahangir and team focused their energies on connecting everything else, including GPS units, cars, security systems and point of sale devices. This early insight has proved fruitful, and now many millions of ‘things’ are connected to the network and working on Jasper’s platform.”

IoT systems generate huge amounts of data and a platform is needed to process, manage and make sense of it all. The cloud is where the action is because companies can scale up as the IoT-generated data volume grows and grows and grows. Acquiring Jasper is a big bet, but a smart one from Cisco’s point of view because its core strength is networking and the IoT is all about the network.


Liam Neeson in ‘Death of an OLED TV Salesman’

Wednesday, 3 February, 2016 0 Comments

In conjunction with Sunday’s Super Bowl 50, LG has just released a commercial for its Signature OLED TV. It must have cost a fortune as it stars Liam Neeson and was produced by Ridley Scott. Is it a winner? The Verge is deathly: “…we’ve got a schlocky 60-second journey through a Tron knock-off fantasy land, with Neeson growling cliches about how ‘the future belongs to us.'” John Gruber is equally morbid: “As with many Super Bowl ads, I feel like they would’ve gotten more bang for their buck by just setting fire to a few million dollars in cash and putting the video on YouTube.”

“My character is an enigmatic man from the future who has traveled back to the present day on a very important mission,” said Liam Neeson to/for LG. “He represents that inner appeal, that curiosity we have to find out about the future.”

One gets the feeling at times that Ridley Scott has made a handsome trade of recycling memes from the iconic television commercial that introduced the Apple Macintosh personal computer. But is LG happy to be placed in a spectrum that’s 30 years behind Apple? Is it so incurious that it’s willing to be associated with a tired rerun of “1984”?


Trump antics, analytics and the vision thing

Tuesday, 2 February, 2016 1 Comment

A week ago, TechNewsWorld published a piece by Rob Enderle titled “How Trump Wins: Master Manipulator, Meet Analytics.” Snippet: “There is no doubt Trump is a master manipulator, and he has figured out how to use social media to turn this advanced skill into a near superpower. If this skill disparity holds, he won’t just win the election — it will be a rout.”

A week is a long time in politics. Donald Trump lost in Iowa last night, Marco Rubio is heading to New Hampshire with the wind at his back and we’re now looking at a “Three-Way Republican Race,” according to Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal.

Marco Rubio Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group and he “provides regional and global companies with guidance in how to create credible dialogue with the market,” among other things. He also writes for CIO, which serves the needs of Chief Information Officers (CIOs), and his latest column is titled “The Internet of Things has a vision problem.” His very valid point is that the the Internet of Things is more a tech term than a convincing argument about how life would be better in a world where all imaginable devices talk to each other. Quote:

“With the Internet of Things (IoT) the problem starts with the name, which doesn’t convey a core value but a technical state (connected things) and focuses people again on quantity rather than quality. ‘Smart’ was far better because it implied a solution that made things better as opposed to just made things different. A connected device isn’t inherently better than a disconnected device unless you somehow add intelligence or additional needed functionality.”

Perhaps the IoT needs a Steve Jobs to sell the concept to the masses? Talking of the Apple genius, Rob Enderle concluded his column on The Donald and analytics thus: “Trump may be the best indicator of what would have happened had Jobs run for president in a social media/analytics world.” Doubt it. After all, a connected device isn’t inherently better than a disconnected device unless you somehow add intelligence.

Bottom line: Marco Rubio’s strong third position in Iowa is very significant. If he does well in New Hampshire and wins in South Carolina, the nomination is his.


The feast day of Saint Brigid

Monday, 1 February, 2016 0 Comments

“Anois teacht an Earraigh
beidh an lá dúl chun shíneadh,
Is tar eis na féil Bríde
ardóigh mé mo sheol.”

So wrote Raftery (1779 – 1835), the last of the wandering Gaelic poets. His verse says that spring is coming and the days will begin to lengthen, so he’s going to move out in the world once the feast of St Brigid has been celebrated.

Today, 1 February is the Saint Brigid’s Day that Raftery commemorated in Anois teacht an Earraigh (“Now, the coming of the Spring”), but there’s little evidence of the coming of spring where Raftery once roamed. The weather there is anything but vernal. To be sure, there’s “a stretch in the evening”, as the people say, but it’s wild, wet and windy in Mayo. An unscientific analysis of Raftery’s poem then might lead one to conclude that our winters are getting colder, not warmer, as some now claim. The poet certainly suggests that it was quite mild in early February at the beginning of the 19th century.

Why was the wandering poet Raftery so aware of St Brigid’s Feast? Back in his day, the first of February was considered the start of the growth season in rural Ireland. The date had long been held sacred as Imbolg, the Celtic festival of Spring, but after Christianity arrived, Saint Brigid was honoured instead of the pagan gods. The Greatest! She was a fifth-century mystic who became the patron saint of blacksmiths and healers. My mother always attended the “blessing of the scarves” in the local church on this day and, like many believers, she regarded the wearing of such a scarf to be far better protection against a sore throat than any amount of antibiotics. Saint Brigid was also the patron saint of poets, a second reason, perhaps, for Raftery’s mentioning of her feast day.

Being a saint, Brigid was able to perform miracle. Most of hers involved the multiplication of food such as providing butter for the poor, and the not-so poor. It is said that she once caused cows to give milk three times the same day to enable some visiting bishops to have enough to drink. As Irish monks wandered through Europe, they carried their belief in Brigid with them. In England, many churches were dedicated to her, most notably St. Bride’s Church in London’s Fleet Street. Designed by Wren, it was the spiritual home of the printing and media trades for 200 years. And now it’s in cyberspace — where most hacks and ink-stained drudges such as St. Matt (?) hang out.

RTE logo 1961 Apart from the blessed scarves, the last vestiges of the Brigid devotion in Ireland today are plaited crosses fashioned from rushes. In 1961, when the Irish Republic decided to launch a national television service, the St Brigid’s Cross was chosen as its logo and it remained part of the station’s corporate identity for many years before being reduced to such a stylized form as to be all but unrecognizable.

The spiral of the Saint Brigid’s Cross invokes the pattern that the seven stars of the Plough asterism makes in the night sky during the course of a year. The Plough turns through the seasonal year like the hands of a clock and it is now bringing us into the spring of renewal. Anois teacht an Earraigh…


The well of mystery

Sunday, 31 January, 2016 0 Comments

It was my mother’s custom to fill bottles with water from each holy well she visited. “A neighbor from another world / Residing in a jar / Whose limit none has ever seen” is how Emily Dickinson describes the mystical spirit, the magical genii, that was conserved in those bottles. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson contains 1,775 of her compositions. Number 1,400 begins: “What mystery pervades a well!” Here, the well is not just a vital source of water but a spring of spiritual refreshment.

In the fifth verse, Dickinson issues a stern warning about the arrogance of those who fail to respect “nature”, with its “ghost” of the supernatural, and she concludes by addressing a universal remorse: The regret “That those who know her, know her less / The nearer her they get.”

What mystery pervades a well!

What mystery pervades a well!
That water lives so far–
A neighbor from another world
Residing in a jar

Whose limit none have ever seen,
But just his lid of glass–
Like looking every time you please
In an abyss’s face!

The grass does not appear afraid,
I often wonder he
Can stand so close and look so bold
At what is awe to me.

Related somehow they may be,
The sedge stands next the sea–
Where he is floorless
And does no timidity betray

But nature is a stranger yet;
The ones that cite her most
Have never passed her haunted house,
Nor simplified her ghost.

To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her, know her less
The nearer her they get.

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

Going to the well for water: St. Pecaun's well is at the eastern end of the Glen of Aherlow, between Bansha and Cahir

Going to the well for water: St. Pecaun’s Well is at the eastern end of the Glen of Aherlow, between Bansha and Cahir in Tipperary


What is the Finnish word for scam?

Saturday, 30 January, 2016 0 Comments

On 28 November 2014, we posted an item titled Jolla is pronounced “yolla’. It was about a Finnish startup, “which topped the crowdfunding target it had set for its Sailfish OS tablet in just two hours. Now, almost $1.3 million has been pledged and the campaign has 12 days left.” The Indiegogo crowdfunding platform said a total of $2,571,382USD was raised and the “Original campaign was 479% funded on December 9, 2014.”

And now? “Dear Jolla Tablet supporters and other Jolla followers, Happy New Year! Together, let’s make this an ever better one than last.” So began a post that appeared on the Jolla blog on Thursday. The date was 28 January, but Antti Saarnio (“your Jolla captain”), awakening from his Nordic hibernation, did not seem to think that it was a bit late in the month for greeting 2016. That should have raised a few red flags. The post was titled “Jolla Tablet: Aiming for Closure” and it contained the following disclosure:

“We have been analyzing different alternatives regarding the Jolla Tablet project situation. But no matter how you come at it, the tight financial situation remains a major constraint and therefore a main driver of the solution. Furthermore, due to the delays in the latest financing round it has simply become too late to produce all the tablets for the project. The supplier no longer has the needed components and many of them are no longer available. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done now to change this.”

Jolla said that it had shipped 121 of the tablets and it will deliver another 540 units next month and that will be the end of “the world’s first people powered tablet.” Everyone else will be offered refunds, but “Due to the financial constraints this will happen in two parts: half of the refund will be done during Q1/2016, and the other half within a year, our financial situation permitting.” Good luck with that.

Jolla

Note: The Finnish word for word for “scam” is huijaus (noun), and the verb to to defraud or embezzle is vedättää. This does not suggest that the Jolla founders intended to scam, defraud or embezzle, of course.


Bernie’s excellent video

Friday, 29 January, 2016 0 Comments

The prize for the best presidential campaign video so far goes to Democratic Party hopeful Bernie Sanders. The appeal of “America | Bernie Sanders” is heightened by the use of the song America by Simon & Garfunkel from their Bookends album. According to Marc Eliot, author of Paul Simon: A Life: “America creates a cinematic vista that tells of the singer’s search for a literal and physical America that seems to have disappeared, along with the country’s beauty and ideals.” (That was 48 years ago.)

“Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together.
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag…

…Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come to look for America.”

By the way, Bookends was released in 1968, the year of the Olympics in Mexico City, where Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two US medalists, gave the black power salute during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. Also in 1968, the Black Panther Party declared that every member had to study Mao Tse-tung’s Little Red Book “to advance his or her knowledge of peoples’ struggle and the revolutionary process.” Bernie Sanders has never publicly expressed admiration for Mao, but he joined the Young People’s Socialist League, the youth affiliate of the Socialist Party of America, while at the University of Chicago in the 1960s. You’d never think it when looking at “America | Bernie Sanders”, though. The “peoples’ struggle” has changed, but the song is still the same.


The Daily Telegraph and the could/would jet

Friday, 29 January, 2016 0 Comments

Fancy flying from London to New York in 11 minutes? From New York to Sydney in half an hour? Read on. The Daily Telegraph delighted its readers earlier today when it greeted them with the headline “This private jet would get you from London to New York in 11 minutes.” Right at the get-go, Lauren Davidson tells us that “a seven-hour flight across the Atlantic can feel interminable,” which is very true, and then she delivers the good news: “But a new design for a luxury business jet could get you from London to New York in 11 minutes — and from New York to Sydney in half an hour. The Antipode is a 10-seater aircraft that would be able to travel at 12,427 miles per hour.”

This is all very exciting, but the presence of “could/would” there suggests that Telegraph readers won’t be able to avail of the service this weekend. And more “woulds” follow: “Charles Bombardier, the Canadian inventor, released a concept design last year for the Skreemr, a jet that would be able to fly at Mach 10. Travelling at 7,673 miles per hour, the 75-seater Skreemr would get from the UK to the east coast the US in around 30 minutes.”

Daily Telegraph news values We are into the seventh paragraph before Ms Davidson brings us back down to earth, so to speak: “However, Mr Bombardier confessed his concerns that materials ‘able to withstand the heat, pressure and structural stress’ of the aircraft had not yet been invented.” Whether she’s referring to the Antipode or the Skreemr in that sentence is unclear, however.

Although the Antipode aircraft has not yet been invented the Daily Telegraph seems to believe that this non-breaking story is homepage newsworthy. Why? Is there a shortage of “real” news? Is Charles Bombardier a friend of Sir David Rowat Barclay and Sir Frederick Hugh Barclay? The truth may be more mundane. Back on 16 January, Forbes ran a story titled “Exclusive: Fly From New York To Dubai In 22 Minutes On Board This Hypersonic Private Jet Concept.” Kristin Tablang’s article is far less sensational than Lauren Davidson’s one and it’s much better for that.