Monday, March 21, 2016

In defense of iPads as productivity devices

I often hear or read people referring to iPads as toys. I don't agree.
I use my iPad Pro as a "productivity device." Multiple SSH terminals open at the same time to my servers, the publishing system I now use to write my books, cloud based note taking and research (using Google Keep, Evernote, Word and Notes, etc). I also read eBooks, listen to audio books, and my wife and I use it to watch Hulu TV, Netflicks, HBO Go, and purchased Google Play movies and TV shows.
I find the iPad an awesomely useful device. I only use my laptops for software development and since I use Emacs for Lisp, Haskell, and Ruby, with multiple SSH terms that I can flip between quickly, the device also supports programming.
I do spend a fair amount of time in IDEs like RubyMine and IntelliJ on one of my 4 laptops, but I just prefer mobile devices whenever I can use them. In addition to my iPad Pro, I also get a lot of use out of my iPad mini 4 and Android Note 4 phone. The trick is having all of my data available on all devices and realizing that most value of a knowledge worker (software developer in my case) comes from thinking to understand problems rather than typing on a keyboard.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

History in the making: first Lee Sedol vs. AlphaGo match game

I was up to 1am this morning watching the game live. I became interested in AI in the 1970s and the game of Go was considered to be a benchmark for AI systems. I wrote a commercial Go playing program for the Apple II that did not play a very good game by human standards but did play legally and understood some common patterns. At about the same time I was fortunate enough to get to play both the woman's world Go champion and the national champion of South Korea in exhibition games.

I am a Go enthusiast!

The game played last night was a real fight in three areas of the board and in Go local fights affect the global position. AlphaGo played really well and world champion Lee Sedol resigned near the end of the game.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

OK, now I remember why I like Ruby: reading through the code for the Reality Wikipedia/DBPedia interface

I have been diving deep this year using Haskell, largely in working on examples for the Haskell tutorial and cookbook-style book I am writing. I was revisiting some of my own (old) code for using Wikipedia/DBPedia data and I ran across the very nice Reality library which is written in Ruby. Reality is so very much better than my old code and I enjoyed looking at the implementation.

Ruby and Haskell complement each other in the sense that they are in the opposite ends of programming languages spectrum. If you were forced to only use two programming languages Ruby and Haskell would be good choices. Ruby, like Clojure, has ready access to the vast Java ecosystem via JRuby so the combination of Haskell and Ruby really does cover the bases.

The ability to integrate real world data as found in Wikipedia/DBPedia into systems is a powerful idea. In building AI systems, large companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft preprocess and use available world knowledge (I worked for a while with the Knowledge Graph at Google, so I know their process and I assume that Microsoft and Facebook are similar), however, for small organizations and hobbyists/enthusiasts caching and indexing the world's knowledge just isn't possible but some of the same effect can be had by making live API calls to DBPedia, Wikidata, etc.

While I appreciate the work the 800 pound gorillas (Google/Microsoft/Facebook) are doing, I also hope that a rich cooperating ecosystem of small organizations continues to also claim relevance in building systems that help everyone integrate their own data / knowledge / experience with the deep knowledge that we all (hopefully) contribute to on the web.

I find myself pushing back against the "gorillas" by preferring, when feasible, to participate in community efforts. A good example is using GNU Social as a partial replacement to Google+, Facebook, and Twitter (you can follow me on GNU Social at quitter.no/markwatson). In a similar way, I hope that developers contribute to and use good open source projects that support deep knowledge management, deep learning (yeah, "deep" is probably used too often), and AI in general.

In a world where global corporate powers centralize power and control, I believe that it becomes more important for people to make personal decisions to support local businesses, care about the financial and environmental health of their local communities, and continue to use the Internet and the WWW to promote individualism and community, not globalism.