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Month: April 2019

Ken Burn’s Civil War series

Ken Burn’s Civil War series

This 9 episode series, first aired in 1990, recently appeared on Netflix. After a re-watch, I am now convinced more than ever it is one of the best documentaries of all time.

It is so unlike the politically-charged and biased ‘documentaries’ that flood out these days. I think it’s also a great demonstration of what documentaries used to be and what GOOD academics looks like. Based before all else on impartial reporting of facts, source material from all angles, and gives little interpretative judgement.

Today, it seems, we get so wrapped in our current highly politicized re-interpretation of the past/current events that we forget that those events often had altogether different meanings and different reasons than we like to put on them. Today’s documentaries all too often white-wash the actions of the past to a single opinion as seen through the lens of one or two directors. They push the documentarian’s opinion and blast over material with today’s arrogance and biases. Ironically, actually losing the most important lessons those events have to teach us.

I have seen this documentary twice now. Once in my teens, and once now in my adult years. I understood far more this time than before as I could relate to each of the players more fully now – from the lowly soldier to the struggles of Lincoln’s decisions.

I heartily recommend a re-watch and sharing this with your kids. If for no other reason than to understand this kind of high quality academics is what used to be considered the norm.



Skalar is a massive audio-visual sculpture – a collaborative piece by light artist Christopher Bauder and musician Kangding Ray. The combination of kinetic mirrors, perfectly synchronized moving lasers, a changing color palette, and a sophisticated multi-channel sound system triggers sensory and psychological reactions and offers a truly innovative experience.

Before you read anything on social media

Before you read anything on social media

The series ‘Smarter Everyday’ did a great discussion of the problems of social media – with the actual engineers of Facebook and those researching it. And it is essential people realize the scope and breadth of how manipulated everything you read on social media is. And that outrage and polarization are the key tools they are using to do it.

Facebook: “We delete more than 1 million fake accounts a day.”

“You can go to a company that sells upvotes/downvotes, followers, comments, and views via bots. This one company’s bots were manipulating the upvotes and posting comments for politicians in 2 different countries, a fitness coach, a hair clinic, a rap artist, an immigration company, and the posts relating to the future of shapeware. We see both political and commercial manipulation.

The comments themselves were written by the purchasers and the bot will then upvote/downvote and post them as hundreds of different viewers to the posts. The services are delivered within 15-60 minutes, cost under $10, and are very difficult to detect. You basically have no idea whether the people following, commenting, nor upvoting a post are real or bots.”

Scientists Re-create Speech From Brain Signals

Scientists Re-create Speech From Brain Signals

Jean-Dominique Bauby, author of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”,
tapped out the book letter by letter by blinking an eyelid after being paralyzed by a stroke that left him virtually unable to move a muscle.

Thousands of people are reduced to similarly painstaking means of communication as a result of injuries suffered in accidents, combat, strokes, or neurodegenerative disorders such as A.L.S. – all of which render the patient unable to speak.

Scientists are now reporting that they have developed a virtual prosthetic voice, a system that decodes the brain’s vocal intentions and translates them into mostly understandable speech, with no need to move a muscle, even those in the mouth. 

The new system, described on Wednesday in the journal Nature, deciphers the brain’s motor commands guiding vocal movement during speech — the tap of the tongue, the narrowing of the lips — and generates intelligible sentences that approximate a speaker’s natural cadence.

This is astounding development and has untold of implications. Give it a listen below (audio starts at 0:16)

We simply do not write this way anymore

We simply do not write this way anymore

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days – perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure – and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing – perfectly willing – to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows – when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children – is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death — and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear death” have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me – perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar — that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night — amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours – always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.


Context aware fill for video

Context aware fill for video

Context aware fill is a fascinating and magical technology. It was previously limited to still images, but Adobe ups the bar by making it available for video clips.

What a wild world we live in.

Google Duplex

Google Duplex

Google Duplex uses several different AI techniques in order to create a fascinating new capability: a digital assistant that can make reservations for you.

Give it a listen.

It uses a combination of different AI backed techniques: voice synthesis, voice recognition, and natural language processing.

This opens a brave new world in which each of us has a digital assistant that we assign tasks and it takes care of them for us. Including making phone calls. Such capability also has the ability to do frightening manipulation automatically too.

Here’s some more data about how the system works: