News and Events Pearls

Today is Internet Freedom Day! DRM-free book about Aaron Swartz's causes

My good friend Marvin Ammori, a board member of Demand Progress, the foundation that Aaron Swartz founded, just published a book on the causes that ended up putting immense pressure on him. Aaron Swartz is on the first page, and his work mentioned throughout. You need to learn about the legal issues, the history, and what you can do to be a part of this important conversation. Get and read it: On Internet Freedom. Marvin's been working on the book for months, and on the cause for a decade. It's free today only, because today is Internet Freedom Day (the 1-year anniversary of stopping SOPA). You might want to buy it tomorrow, though, because all the proceeds go to Fight for the Future and Demand Progress.

I've been thinking about this all week. I'm tearing up just typing this. I've had anxiety all week, I've never known anyone who died. I don't know how to handle it. Aaron Swartz felt like a good old friend to me. I have never met him, but I've been following his life, his startups, and his blog for years. He is my inspiration for this very blog. I saw another kid, my age, writing eloquent thoughtful prose and getting great feedback. He began his life on the Internet, in suburban areas far away from the centers of power. The Internet and his blog gave him access and purpose. He dedicated his life to ensuring that everyone else have that very same access.

His article How to be more productive I read regularly once every year lest I forget. I remember when he renamed his blog Raw Thought.

I can't believe I won't read anything else he writes. He's never replied to my cold emails (he's written many times about his email overflow and business). I'm disappointed by that, so in many ways he's not even an an acquaintance. But I know he's read my writing, my blog, my quora posts. He's commented. In some ways we've had conversations in this cosmic universe.

I was in no rush to meet him because I felt I had decades to get the opportunity to know him. Maybe I felt I needed to learn more, build more, accomplish more in order to deserve the opportunity. I built weby because of the inspiration of his web.py framework. I've imitated his articles, scraped millions of academic papers, followed him in startups, absorbed his ideas. He is a part of me. I sometimes feel like just an echo or shadow of his work.

I hope that, in some way, by promoting the causes that he so dearly loved right now, I can help continue his legacy and continue his spirit and life.

over 4 years ago on January 18 at 3:49 am by Joseph Perla in tech, news, life


Everything you know is wrong

We live in a time that is a combination Gutenberg printing, Industrial Revolution, nation-state building, roaring 20's, civil rights movement, and so on all combined into one.

We don't know what the world is going to look like in 20 years. All we know is that it cannot possibly look like it does now. Everything is broken.

Education is broken. It no longer makes economical sense to teach kids in groups at the same pace by underpaid teachers in physical buildings together. What kinds of geniuses will the world produce under this new system in 10 years?

Media is broken. Books were one of the last pieces of media to cross into the digital normalcy. Books are one of the most important parts of civilization. It brought humanity out of the dark ages. Now, no knowledge can be controlled due to artificial scarcity. Students don't buy textbooks. How will the economics of information work?

Opportunity is broken. You used to have to know someone in the record business.You had to have a friend in a university. You needed to get that interview at that big company. In the 21st century, you produce your own hit movie, you make your own billion-dollar company, you create your own job and job title, you publish your own book. How will people capitalize on overabundance of opportunity? What will they make?

Communism and socialism and capitalism are broken. Communism is dead. Europe is feeling the weight of overpromised social services. Capitalism causes the smartest minds to spin wheels, cash out, and let the market crash, and it has hardly had new ideas in 200 years. Lack of scarcity, ease of group formation, near symmetrical information, and a large wealthy satisfied middle class corrupt past fundamental assumptions. What will the economy look like in a digital age?

Privacy is broken. Cameras are everywhere. The government monitors your every email and phone call. They know everywhere your cell phone goes. Your friends post photos and create permanent records of what you do. Your computer keeps a fingerprint of nearly everything you do or think. How will we avoid abuse of this information? Will we have a new fascism?

Secrecy is broken. Wikileaks demonstrates that a secret known by enough people will be known by everyone. Everyone knows about Freemasons. Wikipedia has instructions for cooking crack. You can build a nuclear reactor. Everyone knows everything. How will governments keep secrets? Will they at all?

The political social contract is broken. Democratic republics were necessary due to the inability of citizens to participate in direct democracy with limited communication. Today, people feel disenfranchised, and a revolution originally limited to despotic countries extends to disaffected groups in democratic strongholds. Arab countries won't look like they do now, but neither will the US. How will the US participative democracy work in a digital age?

War is broken. China is making air drones that can attack and target and destroy aircraft carriers. Carriers cost $100 billion each and now a group can destroy them for a million dollars. Cyberattacks cripple government and business targets from zombie computers within borders with no state attribution. Many of the tools that the US has armed itself with for trillions of dollars to defend the country are entirely useless today. How will we avoid war? Who will win if we fail?

over 5 years ago on October 12 at 10:45 am by Joseph Perla in news, world


Google Creates Humanoid Robot, Programs Itself

by Joseph Perla. Associated Press. May 13, 2011.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Anyone enjoying talks at Google's recent I/O Conference at Moscone West in San Francisco may have glimpsed some engineers wearing curiously thick belts or backpacks. Harder to notice was that the person carrying those items was not actually a person.


(Computer hardware in the inside of one of the seven autonomous electronic engineers.)

The robots are a project of Google, which has been working in secret but in plain view on robot engineers that can program themselves, using artificial-intelligence software that can reason about programming and mimic the decisions made by a human engineer.

With a technician nearby with root access to monitor the robot talk, seven test engineers have given over 1,000 tech talks without human intervention and written more than 140,000 lines of code with only occasional human debugging. One even programmed itself to learn product management, a task that requires creative and analytical thinking. The only accident, engineers said, was when one robot engineer released a product that was far too technical for human engineers and users at Google I/O last year.

Autonomous electronic programmers are years from mass production, but technologists who have long dreamed of them believe that they can transform society as profoundly as the Internet has.

Robot employees fix bugs faster than humans, have infinite memory and do not get distracted, sleepy or intoxicated, the engineers argue. They speak in terms of products shipped and bugs avoided — more than 37,000 bug patches were released by software development shops in the United States in 2009. The engineers say the technology could double the capacity of the Internet by re-engineering every line of code in legacy routers. Because the robot engineers would eventually require less office space and energy than a human, they would reduce Google’s carbon footprint. But of course, to be truly better, the robots must be far more reliable than, say, today’s personal computers, which crash on occasion and are frequently infected.

The Google research program using artificial intelligence to revolutionize programming is proof that the company’s ambitions reach beyond the search engine business. The program is also a departure from the mainstream of innovation in Silicon Valley, which has veered toward social networks and Hollywood-style digital media.

During a half-hour talk beginning Moscone West, a convention center in the heart of San Francisco last Monday, a robot engineer equipped with a variety of sensors and following a Powerpoint projected onto the screen nimbly discussed the finer details of unsupervised machine learning to several thousand developers from the heart of Silicon Valley. Little did the attendees know that the code he was projecting and editing was his own.


(A robot engineer developed and outfitted by Google, with advanced backup on belt, lecturing on the new Chromebook at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco, Calif.)

Later that day, the robot engineer announced the new Chromebook computer at the Google conference on Tuesday. He developed and programmed the software on his own. “We’re terribly proud of Sundar, the most successful of our electronic colleagues,” said a Google engineer. Sundar, as they call it, taught himself product management and has risen through the famously meritocratic ranks of Google’s hierarchy to the level of Vice-President.

The autonomous developer can be programmed for different personalities — from cautious, in which it is more likely to write more code to avoid bugs and security breaches, to aggressive, where it is more likely to quickly write brief code and use expletives in documentation.

Christopher Urmson, a Carnegie Mellon University robotics scientist, was pair programming with a robot engineer but not typing. To gain control, he has to do one of three things: hit a red button near his right hand, move the mouse, or press a key. He did so twice, once when a robot almost removed colorful themes from Gmail and again when another human engineer was launching a new feature simultaneously. But the robot developer seemed likely to have prevented the accidents itself.

When he returned to automated "plugged in" mode, the robot slouched and made a grim face meant to evoke going into a deep meditative zone and Dr. Urmson was able to take his hands off the keyboard and gesticulate when talking to a colleague. He said the engineers did attract attention, but people seem to think they are just the some dorky young engineers that Google just hired out of MIT.

The project is the brainchild of Sebastian Thrun, the 44-year-old director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the co-inventor of the Street View mapping service, and director of Google’s autonomous car project.

In 2005, he led a team of Stanford students and faculty members in designing the Stanley robot car, winning the second Grand Challenge of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a $2 million Pentagon prize for driving autonomously over 132 miles in the desert. Last year, he announced the Google driverless car project which has recorded thousands of miles of driving on hlghways from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Google is currently lobbying Nevada to be the first state to allow autonomous vehicles legally.

Besides the team of 15 engineers working on the current project, Google created seven robot engineers, each working as employees on the team to program themselves. Google is using six hundred Intel and one AMD processor in the project.

The Google researchers said the company did not yet have a clear plan to create a business from the experiments. Dr. Thrun is known as a passionate promoter of the potential to use robotics to make software more secure and lower the nation’s energy costs. It is a commitment shared by Larry Page, Google’s co-founder, according to several people familiar with the project.

Google first publicly experimented with human-less engineers at the Google I/O conference in 2010. Lars Rasmussen, another engineer at Google, worked with Thrun to create the robot engineer they named Jens which covertly played Lars Rasmussen’s brother. Jens presented a talk on stage to launch Google Wave with Lars Rasmussen supervising as his human operator. They notified authorities beforehand.


(Lars Rasmussen and Jens launching Google Wave last year)

Google Wave was conceived, developed, programmed, and launched entirely by Jens. Recently, however, Google Wave was deemed too technically complex and cancelled, one of the many failed projects created by robot engineers in the past year. The self-programming engineer initiative is an example of Google’s willingness to gamble on technology that may not pay off for years, Dr. Thrun said. Even the most optimistic predictions put the deployment of the technology more than eighteen years away. "The engineering quality is currently at Microsoft-level, but not Google-level, quality."

Late last year, Lars Rasmussen left Google for Facebook. Sources close to Google say that Lars attempted to assert his legal right to his robot brother Jens. “Despite flaws, he is such an invaluable colleague,” Lars remarked.

“The technology is ahead of the law in many areas,” said Bernard Liu, senior staff counsel for the California Human Rights Center. “If you look at the legal code, there are scores of laws pertaining to the rights of individuals, and they all presume to have a human being operating under contract.”

The Google researchers said they had carefully examined California’s legal regulations and determined that because the electronic engineers were wholly created at Google, the experimental employees are Google’s property. Mr. Liu agreed.

Scientists and engineers have been designing robots since the mid-1960s, but crucial innovation happened in 2005 when Thrun and colleagues achieved successes with their autonomous vehicles in the DARPA Grand Challenge. Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google and Artificial Intelligence expert, and colleagues quickly translated their success in the complex task of driving into their own field of programming computers.

The original codename of the project was Android, the fictional human-like robot of Philip K. Dick stories, but that was scrapped with the increasing popularity of the Android mobile operating system also developed by Google. Since changing the name to Project Watson and starting collaboration with IBM, the technology has been steadily improving as the robot engineers work alongside Thrun’s human team to improve themselves.


(Smarter Than You Think: Guided by Computers and Sensors, 3 robot Google employees)

Advances have been so encouraging that Dr. Thrun sounds like an evangelist when he speaks of robot engineers. There is their potential to reduce energy use by eliminating the Google chefs and cafeterias, given the reduced need for amenities, and to ultimately build a smaller Googleplex.

There is even the farther-off prospect of employees that do not need any upper management. That would allow the robot engineers to manage themselves, so that they can get more work done. Fewer employees would then be needed, reducing the need for office space, which consumes valuable land.

And, of course, the robots could save engineers from themselves. "Can we program twice as much while playing video games at work, without the guilt?" Dr. Thrun said in a recent talk. "Yes, we can. Now, if only Droid apps would write themselves."

over 5 years ago on May 13 at 9:04 am by Joseph Perla in news, tech, google


Mark Zuckerberg Wears My Sandals

mark zuckerberg

Valleywag reports that Facebook still has not started firing employees as every other Silicon Valley startup has. But, the most interesting part of the article lies hidden within the picture.

Mark Zuckerberg (the billionaire) wears the same sandals I do: old-school Adidas sandals .  I don’t know anyone else who wears them.

I just bought these Rainbows in Miami which are pretty nice.

over 8 years ago on November 15 at 4:15 am by Joseph Perla in news, personal


Tremor

There was an earthquake here last night.
Seismograph Earthquake
Actually, it was only a tremor. It lasted just a few seconds. It was slight, but real. My bed shook. At first, I was afraid it would build up into something strong. I’m glad it passed quickly.

over 9 years ago on December 7 at 6:04 pm by Joseph Perla in news


ASUS Eee PC

ASUS recently released their Eee PC. It is a laptop that emphasizes computing for everyone. It is small (tiny), unbelievably light, energy efficient, cheap, and it runs Linux. Actually, it can be all of these things because it runs Linux. A Windows Vista computer would require more big and heavy energy-sucking hardware. Plus, you’d have to pay the expensive Windows tax.

There are two important reasons why the Eee PC is revolutionary. First, it is ridiculously portable. It weighs less than 2 (two) pounds. That’s less than a kilo. Based on my experience with the XO-1 OLPC laptop, you hardly notice its weight in your hands. Most so-called “portable” laptops offered by other manufacturers weigh at least 3-4 pounds. Most laptops in general weight 5.5+ pounds. Moreover, it’s screen has a 7″ diagonal. It takes up hardly any space. You can almost throw it in your pocket. Despite its size, it still sports a complete, usable QWERTY keyboard and an acceptably high-resolution screen.

Check out a picture for comparison (courtesy of Cliff)
Asus Eee PC size comparison

The second reason why the Eee PC is revolutionary is that it is cheap. While one of the 3 pound ultraportable laptops other manufacturers offer can cost you upwards of $3000 (!!), the Eee PC costs in the range of $400. Additionally, the ultraportables would be bigger, heavier, and clunkier. Portability carries a premium, and this laptop is the most portable released so far. Yet, it doesn’t have the ridiculous price tag of other ultraportables.

Now, of course, it’s not a perfect comparison. The Eee PC has a lower-resolution screen due to its small size, and the processor isn’t very fast, but it is more than useful enough to run a web browser (Firefox), a word processor, and instant messaging. I would personally love it just to be able to run Firefox and SSH anywhere I want without lugging around a 6 pound mess.

over 9 years ago on November 23 at 11:00 am by Joseph Perla in news, technology


Amazon Kindle Nearly Perfect

Amazon recently released their Kindle eBook reader, and it’s nearly perfect.

Imagine that you have a 6″ small, unusually light, paperback in your hand or backpack everywhere you go. Instead of that paperback just being a single copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, it’s truly magical. Flip the page, and you can see Catch-22, flip another, and you read Slashdot live. Forgot to pick up the Wall Street Journal on your way to work this morning? Don’t worry, it’s already in your hand.

As you start reading Catch-22, you come across a word you don’t recognize, like infundibuliform, so you instantly read the definition right in your little book. It’s battery lasts nearly a week. You can annotate the books. It works perfectly in sunlight, it is easy to hold in either hand, and you can adjust the font size to the exact size that you want. It is nearly perfect.

Moreover, it is identical to that amazing encyclopedia, the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The Kindle should have the words “Don’t Panic” inscribed in it. It’s a small, electronic book on which you can look up Wikipedia on the fly through its wireless connection. The Hitchiker’s Guide, too, is an electronic book, and

…though it cannot hope to be useful or informative on all matters, it does make the reassuring claim that where it is inaccurate, it is at least definitively inaccurate. In cases of major discrepancy it was always reality that’s got it wrong.”[3]

The Guide can receive updates to its data base via Sub-Etha. Field researchers (like Ford Prefect) can also use the Guide to edit entries and transmit these back to the publisher.

Finally, if you have a question, although you cannot use Google, you can ask Amazon’s Now Now service to get it answered quickly.. The only thing I can’t do that I would want in a small, personal computer is SSH.

Why isn’t it a perfect ebook reader? Well, mainly, the restrictions and the price. The device itself costs $400. Moreover, the books designed for the reader which you buy on Amazon.com cost $10 each. You can easily get a paperback book for less than $10, plus you can resell it. The Kindle’s delivery costs are far lower, so it’s hard to justify that price. One can infer that the book industry has pressured Amazon into a Faustian deal. Each digital e-book is highly DRM-infested, which means it you can’t use it as freely as you could a real paper book or a DRM-free book. Book publishers still haven’t learned from the music industry’s mistakes.

Nevertheless, Amazon offers a revolutionary product on par with the iPhone. They introduce a revolutionary business model where they subsidize the cost of high-speed wireless delivery of information through the price of the content. Although Sony also has an eBook reader, in terms of usability Amazon’s Kindle trumps it. The Kindle is the eBook done right (almost, it just needs fewer restrictions). Because of its uniqueness, Amazon can charge a premium, just as Apple did for the iPhone.

I don’t think I would buy this version of the Kindle. Given the thought put into this, the popularity of the device (Amazon is sold out), and the massive feedback they are getting from users, the next version of the device will improve. And not just in a superficial way. Yes, the price will improve, and yes, hopefully, they will ask an Apple designer to make the case more aesthetically pleasing. More importantly, other manufacturers will see and try to imitate this revolutionary device. They will provide competition, hopefully innovate even more, and ideally start freeing books from the shackles of DRM.

Disclaimer: I have owned Amazon in the past and may buy it before their next earnings call given this product. Also, I include affiliate links to Amazon in my posts.

over 9 years ago on November 22 at 5:23 pm by Joseph Perla in books, news, technology


Flights around the world

Google added a feature to Google Earth which lets you explore the sky as easily as you can cities on Google Earth.

Also, someone created a cool Google Earth plugin that lets you visualize the paths of international flights on Google’s virtual 3D Earth. The video gives me a feeling of connectedness in the world. You can see major cities across the US tightly bound by these paths to every other populated part of the world. The flights hug the planet in a thousand thin embraces.

over 9 years ago on September 2 at 8:41 am by Joseph Perla in news, technology


Google

Google went up today due to a favorable earnings report which exceeded investor expectations. I had once again bought Google right before this stock jump, netting a cool five percent very quickly, though I’ll be holding on for one more week.

over 10 years ago on April 21 at 9:31 am by Joseph Perla in news


Calendar

Google Calendar is now open to the public! GCal is an amazing application of the new style of the web programmed in AJAX. Everything is draggable, making an unsurpassable online user interface. Also, according to my Google Calendar, today is Easter, so Happy Easter everybody! Now, I’m going to gorge myself on cathartic, large, meaty meals.

over 10 years ago on April 16 at 11:49 am by Joseph Perla in news


Cell Phone for the Elderly

Cell phones to seniors. The baby boomers’ parents have retired, and many more baby boomers will soon. The market for simple, cheap cell phones lacks any dominance. A company can plant intself into this fantastic business niche and thrive.
MSNBC reports on one Czech company producing larger, simpler cell phones for seniors. Look closely at the picture. This new “cellular” phone comes complete with a text message pad and phone line….

over 10 years ago on March 21 at 5:25 pm by Joseph Perla in news


Dazzling Moves on Field and Chessboard

New York Times Company Jan 28, 2006

Jim Brown and Barry Sanders are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Jets’ Curtis Martin will almost certainly be one day. As Shaun Alexander prepares to lead the Seattle Seahawks into the Super Bowl, he shares more with these players than just being one of football’s best running backs.

Like the others, he is also an avid chess player.

”I just love what chess is all about,” Alexander said. ”To me, it is just a great strategy game.”

That chess is popular among professional athletes is not surprising, given the many weeks they spend away from home during the season and how easy it is to take a set anywhere.

For example, several former Knicks, including Larry Johnson, Allan Houston and Kurt Thomas, were enthusiastic players. Chess Life, the magazine of the United States Chess Federation, once ran a cover story about how Ron Guidry and Mickey Rivers of the Yankees often played each other.

But Alexander’s interest extends beyond playing the game to promoting it. Earlier this season, he gave America’s Foundation for Chess, a nonprofit organization, $7,500 to sponsor a chess-in-the-schools program at Madrona Elementary School in Seattle.

As part of his involvement with the program, Alexander played a game Monday night against a third grader at the school who had won a tournament earlier in the day. Alexander won.

In a telephone interview, Alexander said he supported chess because he believed that it could help make children successful adults. ”Part of being successful is learning how to think,” he said.

The 28-year-old Alexander, who was the N.F.L.’s leading rusher and most valuable player this season, learned the game by watching an older cousin. At family reunions, Alexander’s cousin would play against all the younger cousins and beat them. ”I was like, ‘Wow!’ ” Alexander said.

Alexander said he did not get up the nerve to play his cousin until he was a junior in college. Then, he said, ”It did not go well.”

Now, Alexander plays whenever he gets the chance. He said that he was not an expert player, but that he had improved. And he said he thought that he might now be the best player on the Seahawks, although he quickly added, ”There’s always some guy that you don’t know about.”

Another running back who promotes chess for children is Priest Holmes of the Kansas City Chiefs, whose record for touchdowns in a season was eclipsed this year by Alexander.

Chuck Castellano, a spokesman for the Chiefs, said that Holmes in his first three seasons with the team worked with the Police Athletic League to create chess nights for children. Holmes bought the chess sets and hired a local chess instructor. He also dropped in periodically to play the children and to make sure that they were staying involved.

Recently, Castellano said, Holmes has paid the instructor to teach in after-school programs in Kansas City.

Like Alexander, Holmes learned to play from someone in his family. In his case, it was his stepfather, who used to sit on his porch in San Antonio and play friends as they would drop by.

Holmes is rumored to be a pretty good player. So, too, is Martin, who says he met Jim Brown by playing chess with him at a friend’s wedding years ago.

So, can chess make someone a better athlete, or at least a better running back?

John Fedorowicz, a chess grandmaster and a sports fan, does not think so.

”Chess is kind of a sport itself, but I never saw any kind of carryover to other sports,” he said.

If playing chess made someone a better running back, Fedorowicz said, then they would all play and they would say, ”I wasn’t anything until I started playing chess.” Alexander said he thought there was a bit of a connection between chess and being a running back.

”While you’re watching film, you’re thinking about ways to beat people, and that’s kind of the way it is with chess,” he said. ”Every move, you’re thinking about getting an advantage for yourself. That’s how it is with football as well.”

over 11 years ago on January 29 at 12:36 pm by Joseph Perla in news


Happy New Year

Today is the Chinese New Year, the year of the fire dog.

NewYear


I am reminded of a fortune cookie I once opened at Main Moon Buffet: “Someone will invite you to a Karaoke party.” Maybe this year I will be.

over 11 years ago on January 29 at 11:40 am by Joseph Perla in blog, news


Officials Find Drug Tunnel With Surprising Amenities

That’s amazing engineering.

New York Times, January 28, 2006
Drug smugglers have dug one of the longest, most sophisticated tunnels discovered in recent years along the Mexican border, and the American and Mexican authorities have hauled nearly two tons of marijuana out of it since they entered it on Wednesday, officials said.

The tunnel is 60 feet below ground at some points, five feet high, and nearly half a mile long, extending from a warehouse near the international airport in Tijuana, Mexico, to a vacant industrial building in Otay Mesa, Calif., about 20 miles southeast of downtown San Diego. The sophistication of the tunnel surprised officials, who found it outfitted with a concrete floor, electricity, lights and ventilation and groundwater pumping systems….

Since Sept. 11, 2001, when border security was tightened, agents have uncovered 21 tunnels of varying degrees of length and sophistication, from ”gopher holes” to engineered marvels like Wednesday’s discovery, Mr. Unzueta said.

The builders, he said, ”had to have access to money and somebody with a strong construction and engineering background….”

over 11 years ago on January 28 at 4:00 pm by Joseph Perla in news


Joseph Perla studied writing at Princeton University. He has been published in Business Today and LAUNCH. An independent journalist, Mr. Perla has thousands of followers and regularly reports on arts, business, technology, and their intersection. He is a proud member of the National Press Photographers Association.

Twitter: @jperla

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Recent Posts

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Everything you know is wrong
Google Creates Humanoid Robot, Programs Itself
Mark Zuckerberg Wears My Sandals
Tremor
ASUS Eee PC

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