Painful Reminder

Being in a different country, away from family and close friends, for the little things doesn’t bother me as much any more as when I first moved but for the bigger things in life, they still get to you.

After hearing some terribly sad news from a very close friend of the passing away of his mother, I wanted to write something but simple words just don’t do it justice.

She was a wonderful person from the few times I had gotten the chance to meet and talk to her. She was funny, caring, and always wanted to see how you were doing.

It is painful how we are reminded just how fragile really life is and that we all have to go at one point or another.

US Law: It Is Illegal To Boycott Israel?

If you are a resident of the United States of America, you should be aware that it is literally illegal to boycott Israel. I have never been in favour of or against a boycott against said country but it is definitely interesting to note that it is not even legal to do it. I had no idea that such a law even existed and has been here for several decades. I wonder when was the last time this was actually used and/or how often it is enforced.

According to the Bureau of Industry and Security and the Antiboycott Compliance law:

The Bureau is charged with administering and enforcing the Antiboycott Laws under the Export Administration Act. Those laws discourage, and in some circumstances, prohibit U.S. companies from furthering or supporting the boycott of Israel sponsored by the Arab League, and certain Moslem countries, including complying with certain requests for information designed to verify compliance with the boycott.

The objective of the law may seem reasonable enough that:

The antiboycott laws were adopted to encourage, and in specified cases, require U.S. firms to refuse to participate in foreign boycotts that the United States does not sanction. They have the effect of preventing U.S. firms from being used to implement foreign policies of other nations which run counter to U.S. policy.

So who is required to follow this law?

The antiboycott provisions of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) apply to the activities of U.S. persons in the interstate or foreign commerce of the United States. The term “U.S. person” includes all individuals, corporations and unincorporated associations resident in the United States, including the permanent domestic affiliates of foreign concerns.

So what happens to you if actually do decide to boycott?

The penalties imposed for each “knowing” violation can be a fine of up to $50,000 or five times the value of the exports involved, whichever is greater, and imprisonment of up to five years.


New iPhone Feature — Humans Are Doomed

For an Apple event, it was pretty dull. Nothing terribly new and I wasn’t impressed with the new iPhone but the following just blew my mind but technology has certainly come a long way and it is certainly a bit freaky.

The following is from New York Times’ live blog of the Apple event earlier today discussing the new feature on the iPhone called Siri — a personal voice-control assistant that Apple purchased last year. I will try to find a video of it if I can, otherwise the text is plenty enough.

“We left one thing out,” says Mr. Schiller. “It’s about our voice.” This is the fruit of Apple’s acquisition of Siri, a startup that has been working on voice-control features. Siri is now a feature on the iPhone. “It’s an intelligent assistant that helps you get things done, just by asking.”

“Probably the craziest thing you can do is do a voice-recognition demo on stage, live,” says Mr. Schiller. “But we’re going to do it anyway.”

Scott Forstall, Apple’s iOS chief, is back on stage. He asks the phone, “What is the weather today?” The phone replies, “Here is the weather for today,” and displays the weather screen.

Mr. Forstall asks, “Do I need a raincoat today?” The phone replies, “It sure looks like rain today,” and shows the weather screen again.

“What time is it in Paris?” he asks. The phone replies with the time in Paris and shows a clock. “Wake me up at 6 a.m.,” says Mr. Forstall. “O.K., I’ve set an alarm for 6 a.m. tomorrow,” the phone replies. This is amazing. And freaky.

Apple’s set up a partnership with Yelp as well. “Find me a great Greek restaurant in Palo Alto.” The phone says: “I’ve located 14 Greek restaurants. Five are in Palo Alto. I’ve sorted them by rating.”

You can ask Siri for directions. It can read text messages to you. You can reply or ask it to read them again.

Mr. Forstall: “Do I have any meetings this Friday at noon?” Phone: “You don’t have any meetings on Friday at noon.”

Siri can schedule events in your calendar, read messages, take dictation, all by voice. You can create a reminder by voice. “Remind me to call my wife when I leave work,” says Mr. Forstall. Siri, based on previous conversations, knows who your wife is and uses geolocation to remind you when you leave a location. You can search Wikipedia by voice.

Apple has also linked up with Wolfram Alpha to provide data and definitions for Siri to access. “Define mitosis,” says Mr. Forstall. Siri generates and reads back a definition.

We are clearly headed to Terminator/HAL territory here. Humans are doomed. Deal with it.

Mr Forstall asks Siri, “Who are you?” Siri replies, “I am a humble personal assistant.”

That’s just chilling.

Jenna Wortham adds: Will this kind of personal assistant technology turn into the latest battleground between Apple and Google? Android has already baked several voice-recognition features into its software, including transcribing voice messages to text and letting users browse the Web using verbal commands. But Siri could help nudge the technology into the mainstream.

More voice recognition: Anywhere a keyboard appears on the phone’s screen, there will be a microphone button, so you can dictate anything. Siri will initially support English, French and German. It will be released in a beta version, with more languages and features added in time.