The king is dead, long live the king.

 

The tensest political handshake in modern times.
The tensest political handshake in modern times.

What I’m reading a lot on social media is a very determined effort to falsely equivocate either Obama or Hillary Clinton with Trump (whether their characters, their campaigns, or their future presidencies).  In my view, this is particularly disingenuous.  To put Obama’s presence and stature or Clinton’s experience and dignity up against Trump’s impulsiveness and braggadocio and call them basically the same thing just isn’t being honest with one’s self.

This, I think, is probably the most insidious choice that voters made because it assumes a “pick your poison” baseline, that both are bad.  Further, a vote for what is “lesser of two evils” excuses all the other bad traits about Trump.  It essentially doesn’t matter how bad Trump was, is, or will be: at least he’s not as evil as “that nasty woman.”

But the Hillary-evil narrative painted so well during the campaign got more and more thin as it wore on.  What evil are we really talking about?  That she and staffers made the tragic misstep of putting a private email server in use?  This was a decision that I’m sure Clinton will rue for a long time, but as the FBI has repeatedly cleared her of treasonous intent, it’s hardly evil.  That the Benghazi attacks were bungled?  Absolutely.  It was tragic and security lapses were made.  Mistakes happen, even at the highest level.  Is she evil in her mishandling?  I don’t think so.  She’s worked hard to establish stability in the area since and her tone has been proved to be one of calm in the face of calamity.

The Trump image we’ve all seen during the campaign itself (forget 10-15 years prior) has shown itself to be frightening.  What I can’t wrap my brain around is why so many Christians, children of the Reagan GOP, would turn a blind eye to his enabling of very bad behavior.  Here’s a man that can’t lose gracefully.  He sues the press when he doesn’t like how they cover him in the headlines.  He lashes out publicly at women and minorities.  He has no sense of decorum befitting of the office.

And yet still I hear how basically they’re all the same.  That one choice is just as bad as another.  That’s just not true, and you know it, no matter how badly you want that square peg to fit.

The Promising Future of Artificial Intelligence

The following is a guest post

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a hot topic in the tech and innovation world as of late.  It has fueled the stuff of great sci-fi movies for generations, but only now is gaining traction in real, marketable products and services.

Yet, video games that feature AI aren’t particularly appealing; at least, not yet anyway. AI is functional, yet still lacks the flexibility and common sense of a real human. This is evident in plenty of online multiplayer games, where most computer-generated characters lack human reactions in complex situations.

Initially, Google’s Atari-playing algorithm is said to be the future of AI, and that we can learn a lot from its mistakes. However, just like many other artificial intelligence of the past, the platform and software wasn’t able to understand what’s going on in the game in the way a human does.

However, recent news revealed that Google’s AI was able to win  the fifth and final game against Go genius, Lee Sedol. The computer system was able to defeat the Korean grandmaster with one loss, marking a significant moment for artificial intelligence. Although machines have beaten the best humans at checkers, chess, and even Jeopardy!, it is the first time a machine was able to top the very best at Go.

Reliving icons

Exceeding video games, AI has been able to connect us with musicians of the past that have sadly left us prematurely.

Tupac Hologram at Coachella 2012

We have seen how AI has been used to bring musicians back from the dead as reported by Popsci, from Tupac in a recent Coachella performance to other memorable artists such as Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. Software created in 2010 works like ‘a Pandora for live music’ as it analyzes a musician’s voice and sound based on their old, archaic recordings. It will then reconstruct a song using those musicians’ voices as if they have recorded in a modern studio. Thus, it becomes easier for modern musicians to collaborate with their favorite music icons.

Reliving the lives of past musicians is not at all a new concept. In fact, many mobile and online games have been inspired by these icons, such as the Jimi Hendrix slot game that takes you back in time with its groovy 60s design and concepts akin to the popular Guitar Hero game which has spawned offshoots such as the Metallica version for console platforms. But, it’s not only musical legends that have games tailored for them, as recent celebrities also make their own titles from Kim Kardashian to NBA players. Though, artificial intelligence turns these games into a whole different experiences – transforming them into a more immersive, realistic, and engaging proposition entirely.

Andrew Moore, dean of CMU’s School of Computer Science, said AI requires large volumes of data and statistical computation to function, making it difficult to easily produce. However, it can unlock plenty of new avenues for technology in the future.

“Teaching AIs to process scenarios with hidden information will unlock whole new vistas of applicability for the technology.” — Andrew Moore

Doctor AI

A sector that is said to benefit from AI is the medical industry, as experts suggest they are now looking at AI 3D hologram avatars to help care for the elderly.

“Although this project is at an early stage, with a number of technical, moral and ethical issues to be addressed, the development of Rita (artificial intelligence) in the form of a humanised avatar could revolutionise how an individual’s personal, social emotional and intellectual needs are met in the future,” said co-director of the University of Kent’s Centre for Child Protection (Dr Jane Reeves in an interview with International Business Times).

Photo Credits: evsmitty via Compfight cc

Truth and Stories

wMjYwMzYyOTo talk about my thoughts of the excellent documentary “Stories We Tell” in any detail would be robbing you of the joy of seeing it for yourself, of letting its layers unfold like slowly blooming petals.

Generally speaking, it’s a remarkable achievement for Sarah Polley, who only recently migrated from acting to directing.  She has quite an eye for editing and honing in on her subject matter.

Ostensibly, her film is a vivid dissection of her family’s past.  Yet with each act, it becomes much more.  She balances the telling between mawkish and clinical, simply allowing each family member to tell the story of the family “from beginning to end.”

Now for the remainder of this discussion, let’s announce the colloquial warning:

*** MINOR SPOILER ALERT ***

Polley’s documenatry style is immediately disarming and relaxed. We’re pulled in right away, due to the mild mystery at this film’s premise: something big may have happened years ago that calls into question Sarah’s own family ties and her siblings’ relationship to her.

I was soon reminded of other great documentarians like Morris and Herzog and Jarecki (“Capturing the Friedmans“).  These artists all have something in common: they are superb storytellers.  They know that what they are portraying isn’t mere “reality.”  They have cut everything together in such a way as to fashion their own version of truth, which is not to say that the viewer is being lied to.  It’s much more complicated than that, as is the nature of life itself.  There is no one truth easily sussed from a list of cold facts.  Rather, there are many versions of a story, told by those whose perceptions and preconceptions shape their own telling of the story.

Morris has been obsessed with this phenomenon for some time now and has written extensively about it in Believing is Seeing, his contemplation on the nature of “truth” in photography, as well as in many of his films.  It’s also a topic that I’m very fascinated by, that of epistemology.  What do we think we know, and how do we come to know it?

There has been a recent new wave of documentaries that have also toyed with this theme to exciting new lengths, stretching the nature of truth in this medium to nearly its breaking point.   Films like “Catfish” and “TalHotBlond” come to mind.  In so doing, these films blur the line between unreliable narratives and the “truth” of their subjects.

But Polley’s film isn’t so much obsessed with the construction of a dishonest narrative.  Rather, it’s investigative at its heart.  It yearns for the fuller truth of Sarah’s family.  The particular method that Polley takes to craft the retelling of her family’s story is ingenious, one I haven’t quite seen before.  It’s a feeling akin to pulling, not quite the rug from underneath us (that would be a destructive cheat), but the curtain from before the wizard (which is devastating but rewarding).

The long happy life of a coyote survivor

“Daddy, Ebenezer not sick anymore?”  “No sweetie, he isn’t sick anymore.”

peanuts! Ebenezer was more than just a pet cat.  He was a symbol of my developing adult life.  I got Ebenezer when I lived in Dallas.  My Aunt Debbie and Uncle Rick knew of a neighbor who had a new litter of kittens.  They knew just the animal lover that would make a good fit for one of them.  I was a sucker for the little orange tom’s spunk and loud caterwauling.

That first week was a trying one, as all young animals prove to be to their human caretakers.  One evening after work, he had managed to get himself completely wrapped up in small gauge solid-strand antenna wire.  As I was carefully cutting him free of the snare, unwrapping the wire from his throat and body, I knew then that I loved him.  I knew that he depended on me for his life and happiness.  And I was glad then that I had this little creature to care for.  It felt good to give joy, as well as shelter and sustenance.

In a sense, I feel Ebb was a good foreshadowing of my future family life.  He gave me good training for what it means to be a dad: he was my first dependent mouth to feed.

He was also my first pal.  He moved with me at least eight times (one of which was across multiple state lines!) between many apartments, townhouses, and houses.  He successfully integrated well into an already bustling animal family when I married Sarah.

IMG_1278.JPG
Ebb and Royal were buddies

Ebb & Cleo on the bed
Ebb meets Cleo
Ebb in the snow
Ebb loved the outdoors

I nearly lost Ebb shortly after he and I made the long trek to Colorado.  He was always fond of wandering outside, and I was a pushover for his pleading.  One such night, while I tinkered in my workshop, I let him have a lay of the land.  I heard a slow scuffle and came running out.

Ebb - the edge of the known universe
The near fateful night

I found him, caught firmly between two young coyotes.  One had his tale, the other his throat.  I had interrupted the fight before major blood was spilled and lucky Ebenezer held onto a couple of his remaining lives.  It was such a close call; he and I learned some lessons that night.

The origin of his name was simple.  I had always liked it from the Dickens story.  And when Ebb was just a kitten, it was hard to see how the name could possibly fit his personality.  But over the years, as he became more cranky and less mobile, he seemed to settle into his namesake.  Aunt Deb sometimes mistakenly called him “Nebuchadnezzar,” which is a greater name by syllables, but a lesser by Biblical standards.  Iris, you can imagine, had a very hard time with his name and early on became content with the shortened “Ebby.”  Later, she fancied his full stately name, and it had a sweet ring to it from her mouth.

As with so many things in my life now as a father, I can’t help but see the world through my kid’s eyes.  And this event was certainly no different.  As I came home from the vet, with an empty carrier under my arm, Iris greeted me at the door and immediately asked:

“Daddy, Ebenezer not sick anymore?”

It’s a funny thing to experience great sadness simultaneously with happiness. I smiled behind tears and said, “No sweetie, he isn’t sick anymore.” And because Iris doesn’t yet fully grasp the sorrow of loss, she was happy for me.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

 

Thoughts on semantics and syntax, forests and trees

20130124-082936.jpgI love “computer” programming. There are many good programming principles that can be applied to life.

Take for instance the difference between syntax and semantics in language. Syntax is the nuts and bolts. It’s the grammar, the rules that tell you how to construct a sentence correctly. Its meaning is derived solely from how the words fit together. The sentence:

Water trees from drink brook the.

…has no syntactical meaning. And yet, you and I know what that sentence is trying to convey, don’t we? That’s called semantics.

Semantic meaning is derived from the context of the sentence, based on a priori knowledge. Your life experiences, your age, your wisdom – these allow us to infer meaning to chaotic elements. We can look at the sentence above and interpret the jumbled nature to see the greater structure:

Trees drink water from the brook.

I like to think that a great many of our confusions in interacting with each other have more to do with syntactical confusion, rather than semantic. We are too focused on the trees by the brook, rather than the forest.

Typeface

I caught this nice little Kickstarter video today while reviewing the top 2012 funded projects.  It’s a typeface commissioned by the city of Chattanooga.  Their pitch video is really well done, in that Helvetica, designer-friendly way.  It reminds me of the really excellent podcast “99% Invisible” by Roman Mars, which explores the hidden world of design principles and how that world commingles with the public.

I’m inspired by good design, even if the design isn’t in my own field.  And on top of that, I’m inspired by esthetic qualities of all design.  I suppose that’s why I’m more Apple than Microsoft or Linux.