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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.


Twitter @ 10: life with hashtags

Monday, 21 March, 2016 0 Comments

It’s Twitter’s 10th birthday today. The first tweet, sent on 21 March 2006 by CEO and cofounder Jack Dorsey, then an NYU student, read: “just setting up my twttr.” Three years later, Twitter became the news when Janis Krums beat the pro snappers to the punch by tweeting a photo of US Airways Flight 1549 crash-landed in the Hudson River.

Twitter on the Hudson

If there’s a negative, it’s the amping up of public shaming, which has been well documented by Jon Ronson. PR manager Justine Sacco joked on Twitter: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” The ensuing cyber tsunami of vilification was such that Sacco lost her job and became an object of hate. Dr. Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who shot Cecil the Lion, faced similar Twitter shaming.

The upside, however, is that everyone can share an opinion on Twitter, which has expanded and democratized global debate. Just look at the current US presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton has 5.7 million followers, Bernie Sanders has 1.75 million and people retweet the utterances of Donald Trump thousands of times:

With its platform, Twitter has become a go-to source for breaking news; with its minimalism, it’s a minor art form and with its reach, it has morphed into a powerful marketing tool. But there’s competition from visual formats like Instagram & Snapchat and the result is that Twitter is now worth $11.6 billion, down from $40 billion in 2013. Still, @twitter is 10 today and that’s cause for celebration. Happy Birthday! #LoveTwitter

Twitter @ 10


A human head in bronze

Sunday, 20 March, 2016 0 Comments

The poet Edwin Morgan was born in Glasgow in 1920 and studied English at Glasgow University. During the Second World War he became as a conscientious objector, to the horror of his loyal Presbyterian parents, but he compromised by serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps in Egypt, the Lebanon and Palestine. A true original, he lived on his own all his life and when he won the Soros Translation Award in 1985, he spent the prize money on a day trip to Lapland on the Concorde.

This poem brings back memories of a trip to Holy Cross Abbey, a restored Cistercian monastery near Thurles, County Tipperary, Ireland.

A human head

A human head would never do
under the mists and rains or tugged
by ruthless winds or whipped with leaves
from raving trees. But who is he
in bronze, who is the moveless one?
The poet laughed, It isn’t me.
It’s nearly me, but I am free
to dodge the showers or revel in them,
to walk the alleys under the stars
or waken where the blackbirds are.
Some day my veins will turn to bronze
and I won’t hear, or make, a song.
Then indeed I shall be my head
staring ahead, or so it seems,
but you may find me watching you,
dear traveller, or wheeling round
into your dreams.

Edwin Morgan (1920 – 2010)

Holy Cross Abbey, Tipperary


The stars come out with Chris Stapleton

Saturday, 19 March, 2016 0 Comments

Brief bio: Chris Stapleton is a 38-year-old Kentucky singer-songwriter who has written a series of chart-topping hits for other artists — Adele recorded If It Hadn’t Been for Love — and is married to fellow country singer Morgane Hayes. His debut solo album, Traveller, was an instant hit and his musical alliance with Justin Timberlake has spread his fame far beyond Nashville. The voice contains the souls of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett and the songs are filled with the longing and loss that hallmarked the work of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.

“Everybody’s got a friend of a friend
Somebody that can get you in
Begging angels for a sin
In a game that we’re all playing
You and I, we’re gamblers holding cards that we can’t see
And I’m betting on you, you’re betting on me.”


AlphaGo was yesterday, Boston Dynamics is today

Friday, 18 March, 2016 0 Comments

How fickle these times are. How quickly glory fades and how rapidly doubt steps into its shoes. For example: Google was being deluged with praise last week after AlphaGo won the DeepMind Challenge against the champion Lee Sedol. Suddenly, the scary concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI) was, well, less scary and Google got lots of love. How short our attention span is, however.

Yesterday, Bloomberg rattled the rosy future with the headline, “Google Puts Boston Dynamics Up for Sale in Robotics Retreat.” The talk on the street was of the inability of Boston Dynamics to produce marketable robots anytime soon. Hence the reported “For Sale” sign. But there’s another aspect to the story, one which relates to the scary AI scenario. Boston Dynamics posted a humanoid robotics video on YouTube last month that made many people uneasy and the mother company, Alphabet, sensing another Google Glass moment, perhaps, began to count the negative publicity cost. Bloomberg quoted from e-mails published on an internal online forum that were visible to all Google employees:

“There’s excitement from the tech press, but we’re also starting to see some negative threads about it being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs,” wrote Courtney Hohne, a director of communications at Google and the spokeswoman for Google X. Hohne asked her colleagues to “distance X from this video,” and wrote, “we don’t want to trigger a whole separate media cycle about where BD really is at Google.”

After the match between AlphaGo and Lee Sedol, the scoreline read: Machines, 4, Humanity, 1. With Google’s retreat from robots, some would says it’s now Machines, 4, Humanity, 2. But that will probably change next week. This is a fast-paced game and the job-eating robots are advancing, despite the headlines.


The Saint Patrick’s Day badge

Thursday, 17 March, 2016 0 Comments

It was my mother’s custom to send a Saint Patrick’s Day badge annually to be worn on the big day; to display the identity that meant so much to her; to represent her notion of nation in the wider world. No badge arrived this year and no badge will arrive ever again. Last year, conscious of her declining health, she made provision for 2016. The badge will be worn today and every moment of the wearing will be a tribute to her kindness and to her memory. Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!

St Patrick's Day

St Patrick's Day


The memory hole in Europe and China

Wednesday, 16 March, 2016 0 Comments

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the “memory hole” is a slot into which government officials deposit politically incorrect documents to be incinerated. Thoughts of Orwell’s warning were awakened by two recent occurrences, one minor, one major. Let’s start with the minor. A Google search of this blog for references to Steve Jobs produces a results page that ends with the notification: “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe.” This is a consequence of the EU’s “Right To Be Forgotten” ruling, which is Orwellian in its implications.

Now, the major matter. A week ago, the Hong Kong Free Press reported that “All traces of Hong Kong English language newspaper the South China Morning Post have been wiped from social media platforms in China.” The writer, Karen Cheung, added the Orwellian aspect with this ominous sentence: “The paper’s disappearance from Chinese social media came weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to tighten control over the news in China, saying that ‘state media must be surnamed Party.'”

As an ex-English teacher, Alibaba’s Jack Ma must be familiar with the works of Orwell. If his bid for the South China Morning Post goes through, he may be tempted to complete its descent into the memory hole. Why would Ma want to buy the paper? “Maybe he’s been told to,” speculates Big Lychee. Orwellian.

Censor


Learning about machine learning

Tuesday, 15 March, 2016 0 Comments

On Friday, here, we watched Stephen Wolfram speak about the next language. What it’s going to be is undefined, but if we want computers to do increasingly complex things, a shared language will be required. This “code” will express our needs, our wishes, in a way machines can understand. Wolfram’s profound belief is that coding for this future has a philosophical, humanistic, perhaps, divine, purpose. Most people, however, see it in a more prosaic light: learning about the “soul of the machine” is about getting a job.

Enrollment in machine learning classes is soaring in the US, and universities are scrambling to add classes to meet an unprecedented demand writes Jamie Beckett in an NVIDIA blog post. At Carnegie Mellon University’s Machine Learning Department, enrollment in ‘Introduction to Machine Learning’ has jumped nearly 600 percent in the past five years. Applicants to its machine learning Ph.D. program have doubled in six years and the university has added its first undergraduate course on the topic. At the University of California, Berkeley, enrollment in ‘Introduction to Machine Learning,’ has nearly tripled in less than two years says Beckett.

Quote: “In the old days, you had to take an introductory computer class so you’d know how to use a computer at work,” said Lynne E. Parker, division director for the Information and Intelligent Systems Division at the National Science Foundation. “Today, students are recognizing that whatever their chosen field, there’s going to be some automation of the knowledge work — and that’s machine learning.”

Note: Coursera is offering Machine Learning Foundations: A Case Study Approach.

machine learning


Angela’s ashes: The decline of Merkelism

Monday, 14 March, 2016 0 Comments

On Friday, Japan paid tribute to the 16,000 people who died in the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck off the Pacific coast in 2011. It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded to have hit the country and the ensuing tsunami permanently damaged three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, Chancellor Angela Merkel, 8,900 km away in Berlin, decided that Germany would end nuclear energy production, even though nuclear provides 16 percent of its energy and is still its largest low-carbon energy source by far. The result is that Germany’s electricity costs are now among the highest in the world, and its electricity production is still primarily from coal (45 percent). Wind, biomass, solar, natural gas and hydro comprise the remaining 40 percent, in that order.

Mrs Merkel’s unilateral resolve to end nuclear energy production was typical of her increasingly absolute ruling style and this tendency reached its high-water mark last year with her unilateral decision to open Germany’s borders, which has resulted in over 1.1 million migrants and refugees entering the country in the past eight months. The euphoric welcome given to many of the arrivals last summer at Munich’s main train station has been replaced by seething rage, especially since the events of New Year’s Eve in Cologne, where hundreds of women were sexually harassed and assaulted by men of largely north African and Arabic background.

The bill was presented yesterday when the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party made dramatic electoral gains, entering state parliament for the first time in three regions off the back of rising anger with Merkel’s open-door migration policy. The AfD was founded in 2013 by a group of economists and journalists calling for the abolition of the euro; now it’s a platform for a public that has become increasingly polarised by an establishment that’s seen as out of touch with the people. Angela Merkel’s popular decline is proof of the wisdom of term limits. Germany should consider enacting them.

Merkelism


We become what we behold

Sunday, 13 March, 2016 0 Comments

“We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” — Marshall McLuhan

While this quote is often attributed to McLuhan and is said to be found in Understanding Media, it does not appear in his book at all. In fact, it was partially coined — “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” — by Father John Culkin, SJ, a Professor of Communication at Fordham University in New York and a friend of the Canadian intellectual, who explored the idea in A schoolman’s guide to Marshall McLuhan, published in The Saturday Review on 18 March 1967.

Johnny's hands


Rush Hour with robot cars and humans

Saturday, 12 March, 2016 0 Comments

Yesterday, General Motors announced it’s acquiring Cruise Automation, an autonomous vehicle technology startup. Almost simultaneously, Ford revealed a new subsidiary, Ford Smart Mobility, that will focus on developing technology for autonomous vehicles. What will a world of robotic transport look like, feel like? Well, it will be cheaper and safer, that’s for sure. When robotic vehicles rule the road, we won’t have to stop at intersections anymore because pedestrians, cars and bikes will interweave at speed, intelligently, fearlessly. That’s how Fernando Livschitz envisages it, anyway.

To a certain degree, all of this is being acted out in the main cities of Asia every day, without robots. Rob Whitworth went to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and was captivated by the the energy of the place. “Saigon is a city on the move unlike anything I have experienced before which I wanted to capture and share,” he says.