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.



The Blind Side: Don’t Call Him ‘Big Mike’


I finally got around to seeing ‘The Blind Side’ today and I can definitely say that this movie did not disappoint. It stayed very much true to the story that I had heard about and read in the 2006 New York Times piece called ‘The Ballad of Big Mike‘.

The New York Times article, the movie and the book all follow his story really well. For those that have not heard much about the story, it is about a kid named Michael Oher who was taken in by the Tuohy family at the age of 16 when he had a GPA of 0.6. A white couple with a daughter and a son at the school, Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, allowed Oher to move in with them and began taking care of his needs after becoming familiar with his difficult personal circumstances. They also connected him with a tutor, who worked with him for twenty hours a week. He eventually brought his grade point average up to 2.52 which made him eligible to receive a scholarship and play Division-I football at the University of Mississippi.

I had initially read this story when it was first published some three years back and followed him somewhat during his collegiate career but it was not until the end of his junior year when he first declared for the NFL draft did I start to follow him again. He would withdraw from the draft and returned to Ole Miss for his senior year and improve on his accolades. He goes on to get drafted by the Baltimore Ravens (for those of you local fans here — it is the same team as Rutgers alum Ray Rice).

So if you get a chance, go see this movie, read the NYT article and even read the book if you get a chance.

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The End Of An Empire

So if anyone out there still thought that the American markets still was the at the forefront of all the markets around the world and this was still the most “fundamentally strong” market out there… you must have had a rude awakening yesterday with the announcement of Lehman filing for Chapter 11, Merrill Lynch getting gobbled up by Bank of America and the ever-safe AIG also saying it is in severe financial trouble.

Bank of America is currently holding pretty steady even though their stocks took a hit yesterday like everyone else’s regardless of their acquisition of Merril Lynch which responded favorably.

This is probably only the beginning.

Things should probably get a whole lot more worse before they start to take a turn for better. It won’t matter who takes office next January because there is no magic potion that you can just use to solve all the problems overnight. There was a good Op-Ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times titled “Wall Street’s Next Big Problem” which talks about why the government can’t let A.I.G go under and saying if you thought Lehman was bad for the market, wait until AIG fails.

One positive sign in all this has to be the dramatic fall of oil prices which has gone from being nearly $150 a barrel in mid-July to being a shade over $90 yesterday. One has to wonder what is driving these prices down. Is it price manipulation once again which we are used to seeing in election years that the price falls to ease concerns of Americans as they head to the polls? I don’t remember any other time where the price of gas at the pumps fell so dramatically over the course of the summer… usually the peak of gas prices for the year.

I’ll finish on a cynical note regarding the virtual stock market game I play. I did short Lehman’s stock (LEH) about two weeks ago which did wonders for my portfolio that had taken a major hit. It seems like the only way to make money on the market these days is to continue to short these for the short term future.

You guys have any thoughts?

Beijing Olympics [08.08.08]

Edit: As my friend Joe pointed out in the comments, NBC is showing a ton of coverage online which is unprecedented but there is some trouble on the horizon for those of us who subscribe to Cablevision.  Cablevision has decided not to air all 3,600 hours of Olympics-related programming, but it appears viewers who get their broadband Internet service will be limited to 1,400 of those hours.

That is because NBC is charging carriers a premium for its 2,200 hours of live video from the Olympics – as well as for two special channels dedicated exclusively to soccer and basketball – but Cablevision has declined to sign up.

NBC said most TV and Internet carriers have agreed to its terms. It said in a statement:

“A substantial majority of the industry, about 90 percent of multiplatform subscribers, will have access to broadband content. Nearly every distributor, including all majors [Comcast, DIRECTV, Time Warner, DISH, Cox, Mediacom, Verizon, AT&T] are making Olympic broadband content available to their customers. To date, Cablevision has not elected to offer its customers the enhanced Olympics package.”

Just fantastic news for us Cablevision customers. [Source: Neil Best, News Day]


Well the Summer Olympics are finally here amid all the protest over human rights, Tibet’s freedom and internet censorship. I know a couple of people who are in Beijing either watching the games or helping out volunteer so good luck to them and hope you have a great time.

So is anyone else actually going to watch the Olympics? There has been talk recently that it does not generate much interest anymore but I find that hard to believe but then again, maybe it is not that hard to believe. I barely hear anyone talk that they are looking forward to watching the games and it is mostly about how they are overrated and not very exciting. I call all of that nonsense and completely garbage as the Olympic Games can be a place to bring issues to light, to bring athletes and people from all over the world together to watch an event that has entire communities and countries biting their nails awaiting the result. It used to be a stage where people spoke out on issues that were being suppressed in everyday lives.

Two people who come to mind for that are Tommie Smith and John Carlos who gave everything for their country (United States) and were humiliated when they returned home. Smith and Carlos were largely ostracized by the predominantly white U.S. sporting establishment in the following years and in addition were subject to criticism of their actions. Time Magazine showed the five-ring Olympic logo with the words, “Angrier, Nastier, Uglier”, instead of “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. Back home they were subject to abuse and they and their families received death threats. At least they made a positive difference in the world we live in today and it was nice to see them being honored by ESPN for their 40th year anniversary of the event at the ESPY’s this year (that I blogged about here).

I don’t know about all those doubters but I have always been a fan of the Olympics (Winter and Summer both) because once every other year, atheletes from all over the world can sort of come together and compete against each other while proudly wearing their country’s colors. For all the other times (at least in the US anyways) you just see the title of “World Champion” or “World Series” get tossed around like it means something when the teams only consist of the United States and only a handful of teams from north of the border.

I have tried to stay away from much of the details regarding the opening cermony as I want to watch it live tonight (7:30 PM on NBC) will be shown in taped-delay fashion. There has been much anticipation regarding what the Chinese have in store for the opening ceremony as it certainly will be lavish and I am particularily curious to see be the last to light the Olympic Torch. Who can ever forget Muhammed Ali lighting the Torch in the Summer Olympics of 1996 in Atlanta, Ga.

For anyone interested in the history of the Olympic Medals for a summer Olympics by country, year, or ranking, New York Times once again put out a brilliant interactive Graphic on the matter that can be found right here. The graphic is pretty clear as it changes the size of a particular country based on the number of medals they have won in a given year and they also detail each medal won if you just click on a specific country. For example who knew that the only medal Dominican Republic won in the 2004 games was a Gold Medal by Felix Sanchez in 400m hurdles.

Ignorance Is Not Just Bliss…

Just a quick post before I head out to a couple of classes. An interesting op/ed piece from the New York Times’ columnist Bob Herbert that I saw on reddit earlier today. Totally coincidentally, my roommate earlier mentioned that there are dumb people everywhere and that the American ones are just magnified in the media nowadays. Point well taken. Another sarcastically remarked “dude, the dumb kids make me look good, don’t ruin it.” You can take that for what it’s worth.

I’ll share a small piece of it below, but the link is provided above.

An American kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. That’s more than a million every year, a sign of big trouble for these largely clueless youngsters in an era in which a college education is crucial to maintaining a middle-class quality of life — and for the country as a whole in a world that is becoming more hotly competitive every day.

Ignorance in the United States is not just bliss, it’s widespread. A recent survey of teenagers by the education advocacy group Common Core found that a quarter could not identify Adolf Hitler, a third did not know that the Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, and fewer than half knew that the Civil War took place between 1850 and 1900.