Thursday, October 20, 2016

Everything that's wrong

I kind of agree with this, except I'm not sure it's our culture that's "wrong" so much as the effect of new (unresolved) challenges emerging in some of the elements that feed and shape it, especially education. It's worth noting that contrary to the assertions of many people with agenda's to impose, we live in an age of record prosperity, health and mobility. And despite there still being wars, skirmishes and the odd psychopathic ideology, we are also (on average) less likely to die a violent death than at any time in Human history. The odd blip like Trump should be expected; the trick will be teaching future generations mastery of critical and skeptical thinking, i.e. equipping them with the most reliable tools we know of in order to expose the hucksters and con-men before they screw things up for everyone.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

It's good to talk

Interesting story in the computer press today about a software advance at Microsoft. A team from the Artificial Intelligence and Research department announced that the latest iteration of their speech recognition software had achieved an error rate of 5.9%, i.e. in a segment of normal human speech (i.e. conversation) it interpreted 94% of the words correctly, this is pretty similar (if not superior) to the rates you would expect a professional transcriber to achieve. This achievement, along with some other advances in NLP (natural language processing) and machine learning, opens the door to potentially having a proper spoken dialogue with computers rather than having to "type" stuff all the time. Removing the barrier of the keyboard and operating systems of modern computers opens them up to communities and uses that have proved difficult to satisfy, for example handicapped and elderly people. The race is now properly "on" to achieve fully integrated, voice controlled systems that do real and useful things in the real world. 

I recently got my hands on the new Amazon Echo device which admittedly has a limited set of topics currently, but has speech recognition and natural language processing capabilities that are excellent for the price point IMO; and it gets better as it learns the nuances of accents and FAQ's etc. You can simply ask it things like "how do you spell xxx" or "what's x divided by y" and you instantly get the right answer (a boon for my kids doing English and Maths homework!) I'm also finding it useful to capture shopping list and "to-do" items whilst juggling pots and pans around the kitchen (as the thought strikes!); I also rate highly it's music playing abilities, combined with a service like Spotify pretty much any track from any era and any artist is available just by asking for it. My next experiment is to link it up to some home automation devices, see if I can control some of the more frequently used devices and lights around the house. It's a brave new world, if I were 18 years old again and wondering what field to get into at this point in history, I think AI would be it.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Divide and... collapse..

So it looks like the answer was "fire" then... the fact that these UKIP clowns were instrumental in spectacularly deceiving the public to achieve the most stupid and divisive political decision in modern history simply rubs salt into the wound.

Col Mustard in the library with the lead pipe

Nice cartoon from XKCD - makes you think; I wonder how many of the attributes, both physical, phenotypical and behavioural we've missed or gotten wrong through only having an (incomplete) fossil record to go on. I wonder if those gaps could be plugged by DNA, i.e. if spider DNA codes for proteins that make silk then we can guess that spiders make webs without ever seeing one, same for venom.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Best, best

For ages now I've struggled to make a really convincing English "best bitter", despite being probably the easiest (on paper) beer to make with the simplest ingredients, getting it right on the day was proving elusive. This evening I cracked open a new batch of a Fullers London Pride clone which I must say has turned out fabulously. I've made this beer before and it turned out pretty good (I thought it was wonderful at the time) but compared to this one it had its flaws. This time around the colour is spot on, clarity excellent and the taste really authentic (tried side-by-side with a bottle of the original), good balance between malts and hops with a nice bitter finish (made with Challenger, Northdown and Target hops) and around 4% ABV it's a really nice, session-able brew! Once my friends discover this one I don't think it'll hang around.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Obama for president

Is it just me or does anyone else think Michelle Obama should take the place of Hilary Clinton and become the next US president? Eloquent, rational, passionate, intelligent, principled, untouched by scandal what more could you want? 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


As if on cue J&M posts a cartoon about hyper-sensitivity on the subject of mocking religion.

Cut Louis some slack!

Good article on the NSS website today. It discusses the recent castigation by the media and British Gymnastics (the governing body of his sport) of gymnast Louis Smith (I posted on the topic on Tuesday). The release of the video clip by the Sun newspaper was also followed swiftly by Mohammed Shafiq, the chief executive of the Ramadan Foundation who said "our faith is not to be mocked", or what we ask, is this a threat? There's nothing special about Islam that means it should not be mocked, some might suggest it would be good to mock it more; and blasphemy was abolished in English law back in 2008 (alarmingly recently!) as the article suggests, are we seeing a reversion to a situation in the UK where criticising certain things is simply taboo?

"The very public castigation of the British gymnast is illustrative of the troubling return of blasphemy. As the former Strictly Come Dancing winner has discovered – and to his immense cost – Britain's burgeoning 'culture of offence' is ensuring that any action deemed likely to offend religious sensibilities, but particularly Muslim sensibilities, is strictly taboo."

Here in the UK we have a long tradition of free-speech and dissent, this includes the mockery of authority and of deeply and widely held beliefs, like politics and religion. The price we pay for living in a free and tolerant society is running the risk of being mocked and/or offended from time to time, if any organisation is so insecure that it cannot deal with this in a grown up (non-violent) way then it gives us little reason to tolerate it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

American politics

Private eye on target as usual..

Shaggy logic

Forget religious education, just re-run old videos of Scooby-do! (only kidding, clearly "wacky races" would also be essential, for balance...)

Sticks and stones..

Gymnast Louis Smith is in trouble at the moment for appearing to "mock" Islam in a recently leaked video showing a him and a friend making fools of themselves in public. If you watch the video clip (it's only a few seconds long) you can see that this is obviously two young lads with too much booze on-board coming across something that looks like a prayer mat in a hotel reception and pretending to pray to Mecca on it until a "grown-up" member of the hotel staff comes out and tells them off. It's the kind of thing I can easily imagine doing at that age (and worse). Is it wrong, not really. Is it antisocial behaviour, yep. Does it mock a religion, possibly, but so what. Personally I don't see any issue with someone mocking a particular religion, in the same way that I don't have a problem with someone mocking a political party, a particular hobby or a particular sport, these are all inert things that, whilst they certainly have followers and apologists, don't actually have feelings. Would the Rugby Football Union discipline a male player for dressing up in a tutu and pretending to be a gymnast, or going to a fancy dress party as a salacious nun? I don't see the difference, do we have freedom of speech or not? and what's so special about Islam? (rhetorical question, we all know what's special...)