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Apple is 40 today

Friday, 1 April, 2016 0 Comments

Apple was established on 1 April 1976, by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne to sell the Apple I personal computer kit, which was designed and hand-built by Wozniak. The company was incorporated on 3 January 1977 without Wayne, who decided to sell his 10 percent share back to Jobs and Wozniak for $800. Note: A 10 percent share of Apple Inc. would be worth $60 billion today. Two other numbers: Apple has 110,000 employees, but they’re dwarfed by the 300,000 developers supplying its App Store.

“Was Steve Jobs smart? No, not exceptionally. Instead, he was a genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical… History will place him in the pantheon right next to Edison and Ford. More than anyone else of his time, he made products that were completely innovative, combining the power of poetry and processors. With a ferocity that could make working with him as unsettling as it was inspiring, he also built the world’s most creative company. And he was able to infuse into its DNA the design sensibilities, perfectionism, and imagination that make it likely to be, even decades from now, the company that thrives best at the intersection of artistry and technology.” — Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs


So, let’s action that

Thursday, 31 March, 2016 1 Comment

The American linguist Arika Okrent wrote a book once and gave it a mouthful of a name: In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build A Perfect Language. On her YouTube channel, the videos have crisper titles: French Phrases Hidden in English Words, The Evolution of Dude and Why is English Spelling so Weird? Her latest offering tackles the dreaded management-speak and packs a lot of erudition into 3 minutes and 32 seconds.

A follow-up, we hope, will examine such current awfulness as “synergy”, “going forward”, “deliverables”, “empower”, “leverage” and, worst of all, the hideous habit of starting a sentence with the word “so.”


Move!

Wednesday, 30 March, 2016 0 Comments

“3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage…. ” Rick Mereki, an independent filmmaker from Melbourne, packs a lot of travel into 60 seconds. For those who feel that it’s all been done before, this is inspirational. All one needs is the ability to view the world with less jaded eyes, two camera, three guys and the will to move.


The repo, the n-gram and the lemmas

Tuesday, 29 March, 2016 0 Comments

Every day offers opportunities for learning new words. Example sentence: “This repo contains a list of the 10,000 most common English words in order of frequency, as determined by n-gram frequency analysis of the Google’s Trillion Word Corpus.”

The repo, there, is short for repository, and a repository — a kind of a folder filled with files — is the most basic element of GitHub, the largest host of source code in the world, with 12 million users and some 31 million repositories. As regards the n-gram, it is a type of language model for predicting the next item in a sequence of text or speech in computational linguistics.

It was a GitHub mention by Morten Just that inspired all this, and the Dane’s link is a gift that keeps on giving: “This repo is useful as a corpus for typing training programs. According to analysis of the Oxford English Corpus, the 7,000 most common English lemmas account for approximately 90% of usage, so a 10,000 word training corpus is more than sufficient for practical training applications.” You will have noticed “lemmas” there and if you’re wondering about its meaning, check out morphology.

Google’s Trillion Word Corpus contains lots of gems. With repo, n-gram and lemmas defined, we’ve still got a way to go until we reach the end of the exotics.


Easter, 1916 and 2016

Monday, 28 March, 2016 1 Comment

Five years after the poet William Butler Yeats had immortalized the Irish rebellion of 1916 with the phrase “A terrible beauty is born,” the brothers-in-arms of the Easter uprising were at each other’s throats in a merciless, ruinous Civil War. And every decade since, the island of Ireland has been traumatized by eruptions of a terror that robs and murders in the name of the 1916 rebels. Beauty fades, looks change, idealism decays.

How did the idealism of 1916 turn into barbarism and then into dogmatic nationalism of the most dreary, backward kind? In the London Review of Books, Irish writer Colm Tóibín explores the history of Easter 1916 in “After I am hanged my portrait will be interesting.” At the core of Tóibín’s article is the conundrum of the rebellion. Did the rebels intend to take power in Ireland by force of arms, or was the entire exercise a form of sacrifice in which a small group of idealists offered themselves up to inspire a larger number? “What happened on Easter Monday in Dublin is open to interpretation,” writes Tóibín. “As a military event, it makes almost no sense. Taking St Stephen’s Green, rather than Dublin Castle, suggests poor planning and lack of strategic thinking.” Indeed. Instead of capturing the city’s arsenal or barracks, the rebels occupied a post office, a bakery and a public park. This was revolution as performance art.

The historic blood donation of 1916 led to partial independence, but it legitimized the notion of Irish republican “martyrdom” and this malign concept has left a trail of death, division and distrust in its wake. The poet Yeats saw beauty in the idealism of Easter 1916, but he also noted the terrible nature of the fanatic heart. The subsequent ten decades of intermittent violence on the island of Ireland have proved him right, sadly.

Easter, 1916

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)


The Easter bells enlarge the sky

Sunday, 27 March, 2016 0 Comments

The poetry of Sir John Betjeman is marked by nostalgia and humour. Loneliness, however, is unusually bleak, but it expresses a quintessential British stoicism, which is fitting for an Easter that is being celebrated in the shadow of loss and sorrow.

Loneliness

The last year’s leaves are on the beech:
The twigs are black; the cold is dry;
To deeps byond the deepest reach
The Easter bells enlarge the sky.
O ordered metal clatter-clang!
Is yours the song the angels sang?
You fill my heart with joy and grief –
Belief! Belief! And unbelief…
And, though you tell me I shall die,
You say not how or when or why.

Indifferent the finches sing,
Unheeding roll the lorries past:
What misery will this year bring
Now spring is in the air at last?
For, sure as blackthorn bursts to snow,
Cancer in some of us will grow,
The tasteful crematorium door
Shuts out for some the furnace roar;
But church-bells open on the blast
Our loneliness, so long and vast.

Sir John Betjeman (1906 – 1984)

Easter


A week in AI: Tay goes rogue and HAL revives

Saturday, 26 March, 2016 1 Comment

Less than a day after she joined Twitter, Tay, Microsoft’s colourful Artificial Intelligence bot, was taken down this week for becoming a Hitler-loving, feminist-bashing, racist monster. Machine learning software, clearly, is not ready for prime time.

Meanwhile, in Shanghai, at the IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing, Helen Bear, a computer scientist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, and her colleague Richard Harvey, presented a lip-reading algorithm that improves a computer’s ability to differentiate between sounds — such as p, b and m — that all look similar on lips. Machine learning software that reliably reads lips could be used to solve crime; it could help people who go deaf later in life, and it could also be used for better film dubbing. What’s not to like? Wait, did someone say HAL?

In Stanley Kubrick’s superb 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL 9000 is an artificial general intelligence computer that manages the Discovery One spacecraft mission, but when astronauts Bowman and Poole realize that it has made a mistake they go into a pod to discuss what to do. They turn off the communications systems and test that HAL doesn’t follow their orders to make sure it isn’t listening to them. HAL is watching through the pod window, however, and reads their lips. The results are fatal and some have come to interpret this as a warning about the potential of AI to go rogue. Like Tay did.


Good Friday meditation

Friday, 25 March, 2016 0 Comments

One of the earliest Christian poems in English is The Dream of the Rood. Language note: The Old English word ‘rood’ means ‘crucifix’. Recorded by scribes in the 10th-century Vercelli Book, The Dream of the Rood is carved in Anglo-Saxon runes on the 8th century Ruthwell Cross, and is one of the most valuable works of Old English verse.

The sorrowful quality of the religious rites of Good Friday day reminds us of Christ’s humiliation and suffering on this day. This excerpt from The Dream of the Rood is dedicated to all those who were humiliated and tortured in life. Their brave defiance of “wicked men” inspires us every day.

“Now you may understand, dear warrior,
That I have suffered deeds of wicked men
And grievous sorrows. Now the time has come
That far and wide on earth men honour me,
And all this great and glorious creation,
And to this beacon offers prayers. On me
The Son of God once suffered; therefore now
I tower mighty underneath the heavens,
And I may heal all those in awe of me.
Once I became the cruelest of tortures,
Most hateful to all nations, till the time
I opened the right way of life for men.”

Mammy praying


Liam disassembles iPhones, for now

Thursday, 24 March, 2016 0 Comments

Tuesday’s post here, Apple is losing more than the name game, was rather harsh on the company’s Special Event in Cupertino on Monday. But the occasion was not without some worthy highlights. One was provided by Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives. In China, the company has built a solar farm that doesn’t disturb the local Yak population, she said. In Singapore, it is 100 percent renewable because of solar panels on the roofs of buildings. Then, Jackson’s really cool announcement: Apple has developed a robot that disassembles iPhones down to their smallest components to improve recovery and recycling of materials. It is called Liam:

Liam completes an iPhone disassembly every 11 seconds and can manage some 350 units an hour, equivalent to 1.2 million iPhones a year. Traditional tech recycling involves a shredder that makes it hard to separate materials, but Liam is programmed to disassemble returned iPhones part by part — batteries, SIM card trays, screws and cameras. In this way, plastic and glass are not mixed in with metal, making the components easier to recycle. To complete the virtuous (re)cycle, the salvaged components can be sold to vendors that specialize in cobalt, tungsten, copper and nickel, and turned into something useful.

Prediction: If Apple can build robots to disassemble iPhones, we must assume that it is working on robots that will assemble iPhones.

Name: Liam is the Irish Gaelic version of William, which has its origins in the Frankish Willahelm. When the Frankish Empire was divided in two in 843, Willahelm became Wilhelm in the German half, while in the French half, it developed into Guillaume. The English William is the end product of this evolution.


Boogio days and nights while running on sensors

Wednesday, 23 March, 2016 0 Comments

Wearables. What does the word conjure up? For a start, activity trackers that monitor our exercise and sleep and generate vast amounts of data as we move towards the quantified self. “The fitness tracker on your wrist may be the most evident sign of the Internet of Things,” wrote Thomas H. Davenport and John Lucker for the Deloitte Review Issue 16.

That report is dated 26 January 2015, which isn’t that long ago, but a year is a long time in the wearable world. Consider the following Davenport-Lucker sentence: “It’s not surprising that health activity tracking isn’t highly useful for serious health applications yet, because the first devices became available in 2006 (in the Nike+-shoe-based sensor).” A lot can change in a year. On Monday, Apple introduced its most ambitious health product yet, an open-source app development platform called CareKit, that will help people keep track of their medical treatment. And as regards that Nike+-shoe-based sensor, Boogio intends to give it a run for its money, so to speak.

Boogio is a pair of inserts for your running shoes that contain sensors. These provide real-time feedback on such biomechanics as foot strike zone, centre of balance, ground contact speed and gait symmetry, and communicate with Android, iOS and Windows apps over Bluetooth LE. Who needs smart shoes? Well, all the data from those sensors could be very useful for runner training, physical therapy and paediatric rehabilitation. Human quantification at this level will have a dramatic impact on how athletic performance is perfected and on how medicine is practiced. Soon, we’ll all be running on data, wrists and feet combined.


Apple is losing more than the name game

Tuesday, 22 March, 2016 1 Comment

With the announcement of a new phone, called the iPhone SE, and a new iPad Pro, “we now have a dizzying number of choices to make when considering which Apple smartphone or tablet to buy, and all have almost identical sounding names,” wrote Nick Statt yesterday in a Verge article titled Apple is losing the name game. But it’s not just the name game that’s being lost. The thrill is gone, as the late, great B.B King put it.

A smaller iPhone, a cheaper watch, a new iPad Pro… It was as everyone had expected. On the social media channels, one could feel the lack of excitement and the eagerness for the event to end. Truly, the Steve Jobs era is over. Yesterday’s highlight, if one could call it that, was Tim Cook’s criticism of the FBI.
Apple Watch The Apple CEO hit the US intelligence and security service hard right from the start of his keynote, challenging the agency on unlocking the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists. This was the wealthy, powerful Cook playing the underdog, the good guy in a fight with the bad guys. But following this morning’s terror attacks in Brussels, we can expect more demands for even more power for the intelligence and security services as the fanatics seek to turn our cities into war zones. And it won’t stop at unlocking their phones, either.

Apple has built its devoted following on people who delight in cool new things. Encryption is very important, no doubt, but Tim Cook’s job is to develop and deliver products that will actually enthuse Apple’s customers. He’s not doing that. Tellingly, Jony Ive, the company’s Chief Design Officer, did not attend yesterday’s event. Maybe he was at his desk, designing something that will bring back the thrill that’s gone.