Category Archives: Amazing

Peter as the bionic man

Peter Scott-Morgan, former colleague of mine and a mercurial mind in so many dimensions, was relatively recently diagnosed with motor neuron disease (MND or, more popularly known as  ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Steven Hawking had a slow-moving version of this disease. Charlie Osborne, a friend and fellow doctoral student of mine, died from it.) A devastating blow to anyone, Peter has, not unexpectedly, turned this into an opportunity to explore technology as a way of staying connected with his surroundings.

MND gradually shuts down the communication system between your body and your brain, and can leave you trapped with a fully functioning brain locked inside a body you cannot control. Peter, who has a Ph.D. in robotics and energy enough for a platoon, aims to do whatever he can to stay not just alive, but communicating and functioning, as long as possible. To do this, he has had several operations to facilitate technology access to his body and continued functioning (you eventually lose control of the smooth (involuntary) muscles as well as the regular ones) after his brain stops communicating naturally.

Dr Peter Scott-Morgan on Vimeo.

In order to install and to a large extent develop this technology, he needs help finding people with expertise and interest in developing new technology using him as the experimental subject and development partner. Peter is no stranger to being a pioneer – him and his spouse Francis Scott-Morgan were the first gay couple to be married in a full ceremony in the UK in 2005.

So – anyone with knowledge of medical technology and interest in this project – please get in touch with Peter! (And incidentally, there is already going to be a documentary about his quest.)

Brilliance squared

Stephen Fry and Steven Pinker are two of the people I admire the most, for their erudition, extreme levels and variety of learning, and willingness to discuss their ideas. Having them both on stage at the same time, one interviewing the other (on the subject of Pinker’s last book, Enlightenment Now), is almost too much, but here they are:

(I did, for some reason, receive an invitation to this event, and would have gone there despite timing and expense if at all possible, but it was oversubscribed before I could clink the link. So thank whomever for Youtube, I say. It can be used to spread enlightenment, too.)

Hans Rosling in memoriam

Hans Rosling died from cancer this morning.

Not much to say, really. Or, maybe, so much to say. I met him in Oslo once, I had seen his video and suggested him for the annual “big” conference for movers and shakers in Oslo. He came and wowed everyone. Simple as that.

Here is another one (this one in Swedish) where he just shuts down a rather snooty and ill prepared newsshow host by saying, essentially, “this is not a matter of opinion, this is a matter of statistics and facts. I am right and you are wrong.”

What a man.

WWII deaths in graphics

This video by Neil Halloran shows how many people died in the second world war, and what has happened in the world since (in terms of war deaths.) It really makes an impression, and is well worth the 18 minutes.

The Fallen of World War II from Neil Halloran on Vimeo.

70 million people died during WWII, more or less (since the numbers, particularly on the Eastern front, are in dispute.) The video shows that most losses were suffered by the Soviet Union (the way the column grows and grows is heartbreaking, you just want it to stop) and China, that Poland had the most dead as a percentage of the population, that some individual incidents – massacres, battles, bombings – made for a surprisingly large portion of the dead. Stalingrad alone had more deaths than all wars since WWII combined.

The video has roughly the same message as Steven Pinker: That violence and war is on a downward trend, and that this is to be understood and appreciated. And, given these statistics, that giving the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU in 2012 perhaps wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Call on me – by cancer patients

It’s been a secret for quite a while, but now I can share it: Jenny, our youngest daughter, lymph cancer survivor, has been to London to record a dance video with “Aktiv against cancer”. Here is the resulting video:

And here is a longer video with a bit of background and interviews with some of the participants, including Jenny:

Jenny has been a dancer all her life, and getting back to dancing through this video and the dancing classes she takes at her high school has been very important to her – a source of inspiration, as I think is evident.

Seriously cool robot

These two robots, developed by Boston Dynamics, are Youtooobing:

I can imagine this one (called the Sand Flea) being used by the military and police for sending in cameras and other spy equipment in an urban landscape. The Big Dog (below) is something I really could use when I am gardening – a container on its back, and a voice interface so I could tell it to go empty itself in the compost bin when it is full of garden refuse.

QI shooting for comprehensible incomprehensibility

To me, this just might be the best episode of QI ever (and that says quite a lot, doesn’t it?)

Incidentally, should you miss it, here is the second part:

Now, if someone could just syndicate this show to just about every TV channel on earth, the world would be a much more agreeable place. Smarter, more erudite, and less superstitious. In short, A Good Thing.

Please make it so.

Tim Minchin’s Stormy dinner conversation

This video by the rather hard-to-control Tim Minchin is so brilliant that I just have to have it grace my unworthy and insignificant corner of the blogosphere:

And now I know where to point people who tells me I don’t know everything…

(via Gunnar’s excellent Norwegian blog). And here is a live, text-based version.

Jay Leno remakes Rendezvous

One of the most famous car movies ever made was Claude Lelouche’s C’était un rendezvous, which is a single take, 9 minutes long, of an incredibly fast drive through the streets of Paris. The film was not speeded up, and the only safety concession was a lookout near the Louvre for a particularly sharp turn into traffic. The car used was a Mercedes 450SEL 6.9 (erhm, not unlike mine…) but the sound of a Ferrari was overlaid later. Here is the result:

Now Jay Leno, car collector and talk show host, has made a version of this for LA, doing a lap around Mulholland Drive and Beverly Hills in a Mercedes SLS AMG. Though not as exciting as the original (given that the driver is identified, it would have landed him in jail), it nevertheless induces some of that sinking stomach feeling from going really fast around a bend with a good car. (Note that the speedometer is never shown.) Enjoy:

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9/1813626064?isVid=1&publisherID=1564549380

(Yes, it is kind of childish, I know. But fun.)

Manic depressiveness as illness and lifestyle

Youtube turns out, no particular surprise, to be a fount of interesting info- and entertainment. After watching Stephen Fry about Gutenberg’s press, I came across a documentary he had done for BBC on bipolar disorder, also called manic depression. I found it very interesting because it lays out a good description of the illness and the consequences it has for patients and their families, all in a quiet and informative way that never becomes sensationalistic or titillating. It does become personal, though: You can see on Stephen Fry’s face in episode two, when he is informed of the severity of his own condition, that this is a hard message to get.

Mental illnesses are gradually becoming less of a taboo in society, and more and more we understand the underlying causes, though treatments to a large extent are experimental, treating symptoms rather than causes. This documentary, in an excellent fashion, shows the link between personality and illness – a surprising number of people with bipolar disorder like the manic phases, when creativity is flowing and inhibitions are lower. The illness is part of their personality as well, and potentially losing that is difficult choice to make.

Highly recommended. (The videos below may change, occasionally BBC kicks it off the ‘tube, then it appears again….)

 

Art that is genuinely difficult to understand

Much art is hard to understand, often, I suspect, because there is no underlying message, just the implication of one. In this fun article by Stephen Levy (who is one of those writers I just read everything I can of) shows a piece of art which both is very germane to its owner (the CIA) and really contains underlying messages.

Brilliant!

FAST Forward 2009: Notes from the third day

Bjørn Olstad: Microsoft’s vision for enterprise search

Search as a transparent and ubiquitous layer providing information and context seamlessly – from a search box (tell me what you want in 1.4 words and I will answer) to a conversational interface (giving pointers to more information and suggestions for continued searches, to a natural interface.

Demo of Microsoft Surface: Camera interface, can recognize things. Multiuser (as opposed to Apple. Showed an application built on search with touch – whenever you touch an information object a query goes towards an ESP implementation and brings up all the information available on that object.

Very impressive demo of Excel Gemini: How do you fit enterprise data into Excel. (Picture of a VW bug with a jet engine.) Pulls 100 million rows into Excel, sort them (instantly), slices and dices. Built on top of ESP, does extreme compression, takes advantage of high memory, allows publishing of live spreadsheets to Sharepoint. Extremely impressive, worth the whole conference.

Bjørn continues talking about search as a platform: Demoing Globrix.com, where you can ask questions about apartments and houses and get a rich search experience where you can change attributes and the data changes dynamically. Globrix does not hold content themselves, but crawls available content on the web and shows it (much like Kayak.com for airline tickets).

Another demo: Search for entertainment based on location, friends and content. Moving from there to a focused movie site. This is federated search that understands some of the semantics (understands that “David Bowie” refers to a person and therefore only search certain databases.) Also incorporates community (letting users edit the results and feed them back).

FAST AdMomentum – advertising network – has had tremendous growth.

Content analytics: How can you lay a foundation for a good search experience by focusing on data quality? Demo: Content Integration Studio, sucking out semantics from unstructured text and writing it back both to the search engine and to databases (such as an HR database).

Panel session on enterprise search

Hitachi consulting (Ellen): Very big focus on the economy now, almost all conversations are about that topic. eDiscovery is important: Looking at many sources with a view towards risk discovery and risk mitigation.

EMC consulting (Mark Stone): Natural interfaces will be important, frees up the mind to focus on the information rather than the interface. Shows a video of a small girls using the Surface table and how she very quickly starts to focus on the pictures she is manipulating rather than the interface – she completely forgets that she is working with a computer.

Sue Feldman, IDC: We have to get beyond the document paradigm. I want to see interfaces that will immerse me in the sea of information and explore it, without having to think about what application it is in.

Sue Feldman: Core issue with search: Data quality and making it a rich experience for the user. Anthropological, linguistic and cultural issues, getting people to understand both what they are seeing and what they are looking for.  We are just beginning on this journey. From keyword matching and relevance ranking to pulling the user in, having a dialogue with the information. What we are seeing is hybrid systems that combine collaboration, search, analysis etc.

AMR Research: There is a religious war going on, between collaborative systems, portals, content management systems, and search. They all claim to be the answer to the problem of connecting users with their data. There is also consolidation in the market, partially driven by the economy, but there is also a consolidation of functionality and an explosion in new ideas, many small companies coming up with new ideas.  No one technology is going to solve all of these problems. Lots of opportunity because Microsoft is gobbling up all these technologies, trying to provide one product that covers most (Sharepoint).

Q: Examples of interaction management?

Hitachi consulting: Best examples currently found in collaboration and community software.

EMC: There is a tool out there that searches not only blogs, but specifically the comment sections of blogs, looking for mentions of products. Do sentiment analysis, find out what the customers are saying about you.

Sue Feldman: Searching through corporate communications in lawsuit situations. Ad targeting. And what is the relationship between search and innovation?

Hitachi: Innovation comes from finding what you did not expect to find.

Q: This question always comes up: Search is a commodity – or is it? What is the current market doing for search adoption?

AMR: I am not sure who says that, there is so much room for innovation, so I can’t understand why anyone would say it is commoditized. Go out there and find the opportunities.

Sue F: Well, search is a tool, like a screwdriver. But I really need a screwdriver. The toolbox has expanded so much. I see the search market continuing to explode even though the technology is tanking. Possible that we will see a disruption with a new platform based on information management, access and collaboration.

EMC: We are seeing growth, the business will mature because companies have to focus on what the business really needs.

Sue Feldman & others: Search use awards

Customer awards:

  • Best productivity advancement: Verizon Business.
  • Best digital market application (I): McGraw-Hill Platts (doing industry-specific searches, 50% increase in trial subscriptions, 40% increase in revenue.)
  • Best digital market application (II): SPH Search (reader interaction and content integrated with newspaper sources, federated search.)
  • Social computing: Accenture (internal search on people profiles and content)
  • User engagement: Kakaku.com, Japan (700m pageviews, 18m unique users)
  • User engagement: AutoTrader (peak query level of 1500 qps)

Partner awards:

  • Digital market solution: Comperio (use of search for user interaction)
  • Social computing solution: NewsGator (enterprise social computing on top of Sharepoint)
  • User experience solutions: EMC Consulting
  • Partner of the year: Hitachi consulting.

Yes!

Yes!

As I said after reading his book in in 2005:

In an age of seemingly simpleminded politics and increasingly spin-oriented politicians, it is rather reassuring to know that at least one US senator has the experience of life in the less privileged lane; the perseverance and intellectual capability to analyze deeply entrenched issues and work at resolving them; and the willingness to keep the complex issues complex and […] the simple things simple.