Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Doctor Is In

Hausgemachtes ("lekker broodje gezond, met kaas en groenten!") Gratulationsvideo im Stil eines 50er-Jahre Lehrfilms. Darf man sich gerne auch mal anschauen (Achtung: benötigt eine Verbindung mit dem "Internet").

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Never let your squeamish daughter do the job of a professional assassin

Watching a performance of Mozart's Magic Flute on a Dutch TV channel that seems to be dedicated to theater and opera recordings, while waiting for my Bolognese sauce to be done ("a 5- or 6-hour simmer is not unusual", says Wikipedia. I think I'm willing to wait for about an hour). I've always had a soft spot for this opera, perhaps because it was the first one I've seen with my parents, or perhaps simply because its music is undeniably catchy and, while there is a sense of gravity permeating the story, there's also an abundance of pure silliness.

Watching the final scenes I realize again that I never really liked Sarastro; the Queen of the Night seemed much more human, not despite but rather because of her shortcomings, in comparison to the seemingly superhuman Sarastro. Then I started wondering if Mozart, if he would have been alive today, would have written the opera in the same way as it is. (Yes, Schikaneder wrote the libretto, but I believe -- i.e. I'm too lazy to fact check the following statement -- that the overall theme and story of the opera is largely based on Mozart's personal believes). What I'm going for, is this: the Queen of the Night represents, roughly speaking, everything in human nature that is unenlightened; superstition, irrationality, perhaps even faith, or at least its unquestioning variety. Sarastro embodies (again, as an approximation) the opposed principles of enlightenment; rationalism, tolerance, self-determination.

Those values (of enlightenment) almost certainly were the most pressing political and cultural desires of that time, especially for open-minded and creative individuals, including but not limited to artists such as Mozart himself. And, make no mistake, for large parts of our world today, they still are values that are longed and fought for by many. But for some, the relatively few ("few" on a global scale, "substantial minority" perhaps within the industrialized nations) that have in fact been raised in an environment that puts reason and self-determination above everything else, it sometimes might seem that the primacy of the intellect is not entirely satisfying either.

It's an idle thought, probably, and I'm really not at risk of getting nostalgic about pre-democratic society, but I do wonder what a modern Magic Flute would look and sound like, one in which the pompously rational Sarastro is the antagonist and a deeply flawed, deeply human Queen of the Night is the protagonist.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Things to say during a fight (between geeks)

"Babe, if you were any more difficult, you'd be NP-hard."



(Actually said immediately after the fight. Not sure if it would have been wise to say it before we reconciled.)

(Alright, I admit, I'm way too pleased with myself for coming up with that one, and actually thinking of it in time. More often, witty remarks only occur to me well after they would have been useful.)

(Her snarky comeback was something along the lines of "And if you were any harder, I'd be much happier." Eh... whatever. It was still totally worth it.)

(I apologize for this unexpected and potentially undesired insight into my private life. I'll be back next month with the usual impersonal anti-Apple manifestos and more pictures of cat.)

(Yes, that's his name, just 'cat'. Maybe I should ask him for his last name.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can do that.

Maybe I'm a day or two behind (it aired on Monday in the US, I think), but watching the first part of the Jeopardy-IBM challenge was as exciting for me as I imagine the Apollo 11 moon landing must have been back then. I saw it on youtube with some friends (who didn't know about it before), and it was interesting to see that they were pretty 'meh' about the whole thing... for them, Watson just seemed to be a glorified encyclopedia, and I don't want to blame them for thinking so. (Actually, I did blame them, but that was just my sometimes bad temper.)

Yet to anybody who knows about the often bumpy road of progress in AI and NLP, this must have been an amazing moment. Sure, it's a highly specialized machine, there's nothing universally intelligent about it, and "solving" Jeopardy might not mean much in the bigger picture (and I use the word "solving" in a very loose sense here -- but no matter what the outcome is, Watson has at least shown that he's able to play along with the best humans. Note the similarity to the first Deep Blue/Kasparov match.)

With all that said, this system is still an impressive (and highly visible) culmination of a long, long process of small advances made in the field in the past decades, and I think I should make the following known publicly now, right here, before it is too late:

I for one welcome our new robot overlords.

EDIT [29.03.2011] The original post date proves it, Jennings totally stole that line from me...

Monday, January 17, 2011

A campfire/flashlight held against face story



"When I am no longer even a memory, just a name, I hope my voice may perpetuate the great work of my life. God bless my dear old comrades of Balaclava and bring them safe to shore. Florence Nightingale."

Phonograph recording of, duh, Florence Nightingale, from 1890.

I didn't even know such recordings existed. Reminds me of the audio diaries from a Ken Levine game. Note what she is saying, talking about the time after her death, becoming merely a name, less than even a memory -- it seems she was well aware of her lasting fame, but also what such fame ultimately means. Even more interesting is how she is saying it; her words carried by a strange melody, articulated in a high-pitched voice, which might be due to the recording quality of the time, but perhaps also because of an intentionally forced way of "public" speaking back then.

Now listen to it again, sort of get used to the idiosyncratic way she speaks, and there is a chance you will suddenly realize that you just formed a link -- perhaps not quite, but almost to be called 'personal' -- with someone who was born about 200 years ago.