Digital assistant language teacher

Since a couple of months we are trying harder to learn a foreign language.

And as we excepted it is very hard to get a proper grasp on speaking the language. Especially since it is a very different language to our mother tongue.

And while comfortably interacting with digital assistants around the house every day in english and german the thought came up: why don’t these digital assistants help with foreign language listening and speaking training?

I mean Google Assistant answers questions in the language you have asked them. Siri and Alexa need to know upfront in which language you are going to ask questions. But at least Alexa can translate between languages…

But with all seriousness: Why do we not already have the obvious killer feature delivered? Everyone could already have a personal language training partner…

celebrate the discordian holyday: Chaoflux

allow me to explain by quoting wikipedia:

Dicordianism is a paradigm based upon the book Principia Discordia, written by Greg Hill with Kerry Wendell Thornley in 1963, the two working under the pseudonyms Malaclypse the Younger and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst.

According to its primary historian, Adam Gorightly, Discordianism was founded as a parody religion. Many outside observers still regard Discordianism as a parody religion, although some of its adherents may utilize it as a legitimate religion or as a metaphor for a governing philosophy.


The Principia Discordia, if read literally, encourages the worship of Eris, known in Latin as Discordia, the goddess of disorder, or archetypes and ideals associated with her. Depending on the version of Discordianism, Eris might be considered the goddess exclusively of disorder or the goddess of disorder and chaos.

Both views are supported by the Principia Discordia. The Principia Discordia holds three core principles: the Aneristic (order), the Eristic (disorder), and the notion that both are mere illusions.

Due to these principles, a Discordian believes there is no distinction between disorder and chaos, since the only difference between the two is that one refers to ‘order’.

This is likely a major reason for the inconsistency in the wording. An argument presented by the text is that it is only by rejecting these principles that you can truly perceive reality as it is, chaos.

wikipedia

And given that information you can expect a discordian calendar to exist. This calendar defines years (YOLD = year of our lady of discord) and seasons and days. And holydays:

Chaosflux is a Holyday of the season of Chaos. It is celebrated on Chaos 50 (Discordian calendar) or February 19 (Gregorian calendar).

Very little is known about this holyday. What we do know is pretty much made up as we go along.

discordia wikia GFDL

So now back to the holyday itself. How would you celebrate such a distinguished day?

I will use the services of theuselessweb.com to click 5 times on their most interesting button and then meditate on what comes up:

use case #3 – sonos auto bookmarker for audiobooks and podcasts

So you’re listening to this audio book for a while now, it’s quite long but really thrilling. In fact it’s too long for you to go through in one sitting. So you pause it and eventually listen to it on multiple devices.

We’ve got SONOS in our house and we’re using it extensively. Nice thing, all that connected goodness. It’s just short of some smart features. Like remembering where you paused and resuming a long audio book at the exact position you stopped the last time. Everytime you would play a different title it would reset the play-position and not remember where you where.

With some simple steps the house will know the state of all players it has. Not only SONOS but maybe also your VCR or Mediacenter (later use-case coming up!).

Putting together the strings and you get this:

Whenever there’s a title being played longer than 10 minutes and it’s paused or stopped the smart house will remember who, where and what has been played and the position you’ve been at.

Whenever that person then is resuming playback the house will know where to seek to. It’ll resume playback, on any system that is supported at that exact position.

Makes listening to these things just so much easier.

Bonus points for a mobile app that does the same thing but just on your phone. Park the car, go into the house, audiobook will continue playback, just now in the house instead of the car. The data is there, why not make use of it?

p.s.: big part of that I’ve opensourced years ago: https://github.com/bietiekay/sonos-auto-bookmarker

Unlock PDF files

The next time you stumble across a PDF file with security and not allowing you to print or copy/paste.

Do this:

qpdf –decrypt

“QPDF is a command-line program that does structural, content-preserving transformations on PDF files. It could have been called something like pdf-to-pdf. It also provides many useful capabilities to developers of PDF-producing software or for people who just want to look at the innards of a PDF file to learn more about how they work.

QPDF is capable of creating linearized (also known as web-optimized) files and encrypted files. It is also capable of converting PDF files with object streams (also known as compressed objects) to files with no compressed objects or to generate object streams from files that don’t have them (or even those that already do). QPDF also supports a special mode designed to allow you to edit the content of PDF files in a text editor. For more details, please see the documentation links below.

QPDF includes support for merging and splitting PDFs through the ability to copy objects from one PDF file into another and to manipulate the list of pages in a PDF file. The QPDF library also makes it possible for you to create PDF files from scratch. In this mode, you are responsible for supplying all the contents of the file, while the QPDF library takes care off all the syntactical representation of the objects, creation of cross references tables and, if you use them, object streams, encryption, linearization, and other syntactic details.

QPDF is not a PDF content creation library, a PDF viewer, or a program capable of converting PDF into other formats. In particular, QPDF knows nothing about the semantics of PDF content streams. If you are looking for something that can do that, you should look elsewhere. However, once you have a valid PDF file, QPDF can be used to transform that file in ways perhaps your original PDF creation can’t handle. For example, programs generate simple PDF files but can’t password-protect them, web-optimize them, or perform other transformations of that type.”

Source 1: http://qpdf.sourceforge.net/
Source 2: https://github.com/qpdf/qpdf

Security Engineering — The Book

The second edition of the book “Security Engineering” by Ross Anderson is available as a full download. It’s quite a reference and a must-read for anybody with an interest in security (which for example all developers should have).

“When I wrote the first edition, we put the chapters online free after four years and found that this boosted sales of the paper edition. People would find a useful chapter online and then buy the book to have it as a reference. Wiley and I agreed to do the same with the second edition, and now, four years after publication, I am putting all the chapters online for free. Enjoy them – and I hope you’ll buy the paper version to have as a conveient shelf reference.”
book2coversmall

Source 1: http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~rja14/book.html

Build a Brain – SPAUN

SPAUN or Semantic Pointer Architecture Unified Network is a promising next step in the pursuit to simulate a human brain. Built upon the Nengo Neural Simulator scientists at the University in Waterloo/Ontario were able to report on their first break-through results.

In 2013 there will be a book from Oxford University press called ‘How to build a brain’ which will describe in depth what made the astonishing results possible.

But what are the results?

Well that looks like number recognition. In fact that’s what it is. SPAUN – that’s how the scientists refer to their frankenstein-brain – is capable of solving 8 different tasks now. One of them is number recognition. There are videos of all 8 tasks being performed.

The Semantic Pointers are named after the pointers usually common in computer science:

“Higher-level cognitive functions in biological systems are made possible by semantic pointers. Semantic pointers are neural representations that carry partial semantic content and are composable into the representational structures necessary to support complex cognition.

The term ‘semantic pointer’ was chosen because the representations in the architecture are like ‘pointers’ in computer science (insofar as they can be ‘dereferenced’ to access large amounts of information which they do not directly carry). However, they are ‘semantic’ (unlike pointers in computer science) because these representations capture relations in a semantic vector space in virtue of their distances to one another, as typically envisaged by connectionists. “

Source 1: http://nengo.ca/build-a-brain
Source 2: http://nengo.ca/build-a-brain/spaunvideos/

 

eBook: How To Create A Mind

Those who know me well know that I am a strong believer of artificial intelligence. We’re not there yet. Not even close, I don’t know if we (as in humanity) even left the launchpad. But I strongly believe that it will be possible to simulate human thoughts – maybe not in the way AI is defined:

“The field was founded on the claim that a central property of humans, intelligence—the sapience of Homo sapiens—can be so precisely described that it can be simulated by a machine.This raises philosophical issues about the nature of the mind and the ethics of creating artificial beings, issues which have been addressed by myth, fiction and philosophy since antiquity.Artificial intelligence has been the subject of optimism,but has also suffered setbacksand, today, has become an essential part of the technology industry, providing the heavy lifting for many of the most difficult problems in computer science.” (Wikipedia)

More on that in another article in the future since I started working on that subject earlier and now I come across a lot of authors and mostly science fiction books that deal with that topic.

Now there is a new book by Ray Kurzweil. It’s called “How To Create A Mind” and deals with the topic of how human thoughts come to be and how the human mind seems to work.

“Now, in his much-anticipated How to Create a Mind, he takes this exploration to the next step:  reverse-engineering the brain to understand precisely how it works, then applying that knowledge to create vastly intelligent machines.

Drawing on the most recent neuroscience research, his own research and inventions in artificial intelligence, and compelling thought experiments, he describes his new theory of how the neocortex (the thinking part of the brain) works: as a self-organizing hierarchical system of pattern recognizers. Kurzweil shows how these insights will enable us to greatly extend the powers of our own mind and provides a roadmap for the creation of superintelligence—humankind’s most exciting next venture. We are now at the dawn of an era of radical possibilities in which merging with our technology will enable us to effectively address the world’s grand challenges.”

Source 1: http://howtocreateamind.com/
Source 2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_intelligence

practical filesystem design

In November 1998 there was a book released about file system design taking the Be File System as the central example.

“This is the new guide to the design and implementation of file systems in general, and the Be File System (BFS) in particular. This book covers all topics related to file systems, going into considerable depth where traditional operating systems books often stop. Advanced topics are covered in detail such as journaling, attributes, indexing and query processing. Built from scratch as a modern 64 bit, journaled file system, BFS is the primary file system for the Be Operating System (BeOS), which was designed for high performance multimedia applications.

You do not have to be a kernel architect or file system engineer to use Practical File System Design. Neither do you have to be a BeOS developer or user. Only basic knowledge of C is required. If you have ever wondered about how file systems work, how to implement one, or want to learn more about the Be File System, this book is all you will need.”

If you’re interested in the matter I definitely recommend reading it – it’s available for free in PDF format and will help to understand what those file system patterns are all about – even in terms of things we still haven’t gotten from our ‘modern filesystems’ today.

Source 1: http://www.nobius.org/~dbg/

History Lessons: Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg

History was one of my favourite classes at school – I liked it so much that I even wrote one of my final examinations at the A levels in history. I like to know how stuff happened and I like to know what people got from it.

Being a german there’s a lot of history in the last 100 years guiding the interest. You can imagine that the darkest parts of those 100 years are the first and the second world war. Thankfully my generation never had to suffer through such a terrifiying time.

So for the equally interested reader of this article I have good news. In times of the internet we get access to documents that were previously hard or expensive (or both) to get. Like the original documents of the so called Nuremberg Trial – the Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg.

You can get them in english, over 16.000 pages of PDFs, packed into 42 PDF files. Or in the official translation in German on Zeno.org.

That will keep me reading for a while – but there’s even more. With the progression of scan projects more and more original sources are becoming available for everyone.

Source 1: http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/NT_major-war-criminals.html
Source 2: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/imt.asp
Source 3: http://nuremberg.law.harvard.edu/php/docs_swi.php?DI=1&text=overview
Source 4: http://www.zeno.org/Geschichte/M/Der%20N%FCrnberger%20Proze%DF

Congratulations Mr. Heil!

I am very pleased to congratulate a good man and ex-colleague for his accomplished mission: He handed in his PhD thesis with the Subject (german): “Anwendungsentwicklun für intelligente Umgebungen im Web Engineering“:

“This book describes a holistic approach to develop complex software systems based on the WebComposition process model. It shows how to integrate soft- and hardware components in a cost efficient and effective way using  Web technologies and the Semantic Web. The WebComposition Concurrency System, a formal language to predict system dependencies and conflicts, allows efficient planing and monitoring of the development and operation process of the overall system.”

I had the pleasure to work with Andreas on several occasions. One that I remember with the strongest feelings is a 2 1/2 day around-the-clock hack-a-thon at Microsoft Research. We got it working back then!

For the last 8 years I am constantly trying to get him interested and convinced to work on things directly or remotely connected to some of the stuff I do – but up until now luck wasn’t on my side. Maybe someday :-)

My sincere compliments on achieving his goal on this. Congratulations!

Source 1: http://www.aheil.de/books/
Source 2: http://blog.aheil.de
Source 3: http://www.schrankmonster.de/category/familyandfriends/aheil-de/