Showing posts from November, 2005

Encarta integration with MSN messenger

Encarta integration with MSN messenger 1. Open MSN Messenger and sign in.         2. Add Encarta as a contact: .   3. Double click Encarta from your Contact List.        3. Ask a question!  Is it perfect? No. Is it something new? Not at all. In fact, it’s pretty much just a classic “ELIZA”-type front-end paired with a general “facts” database. But as ELIZA showed, it’s not that hard to produce a passably convincing conversation-bot, at least for a few sentences. Couple that with a big database and you’re taking a shot at a few of the deep layers that make up a human intelligence – basic natural language parsing ability and random access to a large database. Next steps: Abstracted - why tie it to Encarta? CPow - there should be a level of abstraction between the agent and the database, so that it can be used in a more portable, configurable fashion. Empower the people who can use it in ways you couldn't imagine before, and they'll drive reve

The Natural Sciences

While waiting for Susan to do some shopping in Redmond, Caspian and I took a walk around the block. We walked through an empty field with grass, weeds, and such. At one point we came upon a spot with a clump of feathers where something had met its demise, next to a clump of rocks. Caspian: "Those are from a bird. Those are from a volcano."

Caspian + Star Wars

So we showed Star Wars (that's Episode IV) to Caspian a few nights ago, in two installments. It was the first time I'd watched the DVD, so my first re-exposure to the "Special Edition" since seeing in the theater in '97 (and yes, I know the 2004 DVD edition is different ). The Jabba scene really detracts from the flow - the framing of the shot where Luke and Obi-wan first see the Falcon - a dramatic reveal of the ship - seems very out of place given that the audience has now seen the Falcon for several minutes. And the all-CGI effects (Jabba, Mos Eisley, Cantina aliens, the Rebel attack fleet, and so on) stick out like sore thumbs. The minor fixes are appreciated, though, and seeing it again on a big screen - we have our projector set up so we've got about a 10' screen - remastered for the DVD shows just how well done the original film was. The cast is gorgeous, the lighting and sets are spectacular. Star Wars really does deserve all the fame it gets. In

Mina - ????-2005

Mina, the mother of the kittens, died today while in surgery getting fixed. Flash back to about 5 months ago; my parents were here visiting and Susan and my mom saw a skinny ferral black short-hair male cat near our old house. They tried to catch it a few times without luck. Finally Su got a trap and caught a skinny ferral black short-hair cat - but this one turned out (after a trip to the vet) to be a pregnant female. The name "Mina" arose because she had lost the skin over her upper canines, so you could always see their full length, like a little vampire. Hence, Mina Harker. Su decided to keep her until the kittens hatched, then find homes for her and the kittens - we thought Mina might make a good barn cat. She was fairly sociable for ferral - she'd watch us, wouldn't always hide, and so on. When the kittens came she was great with them, and much more sociable with us. Once the kittens were weaning, though, she retreated back into her shell and avoided us and t

Caspian Quote of the Day

This one happened over dinner tonight. Caspian was drawing, and Susan was telling me about her day: Susan: "I got stuff to make a girl dolly for Caspian to go with his boy dolly." Josh: "I thought his dolly was a girl?" Susan: "Nope, he's just been saying 'she' a lot. Hey, Caspian, I'm going to make dolly an extra part to make sure you know he's a boy. Do you know what part?" Caspian (without skipping a beat): "A chromasome."

More CPow thoughts

Another example of CPow/commoditization - this one from the computer history books: Way back in the 1980s, UNIX vendors gave away C compilers with the operating system - "cc" was just part of the command line, like "ls" or "dir". In the PC industry, compilers were still something you payed for, but in the UNIX world it was a commodity - if we give you the compiler for free with our platform, you'll pay for the platform and keep using it. A great example of CPow in action. (I remember in the early 1990s when Sun decided not to include a compiler with Solaris - but by that time pretty much everyone was using gcc anyway so it didn't really matter. But there was widespread disbelief.) Microsoft now gives away Visual Studio Express Edition - presumably for the same reason.  (You don't think Microsoft makes money on dev tools, do you? It's all about pushing the platform!) Scoble is currently calling out " Disruption! " when he sees

It doesn't have to be perfect

There's some weird assumption that many people both inside and outside of the computer industry have that an algorithm needs to be perfect to be useful. Yes, you do want to minimize the false positives and false negatives as much as possible, but you can also factor that into the cost of doing business vs. the benefits of the automated first step. Heck, that whole sentence was predicated on a Boolean outcome. I'd posit that it's actually more important to have a very accurate degree of uncertainty assigned to an answer than the right answer itself. I.e. if you can say that 80% of your results are 100% certain, you know you only have to double-check 20% of the results by hand. That's better than saying you have a 0.5% false-negative rate - which implies you need to double-check 100% of your results if mistakes are not an option! Take advantage of keeping humans in the loop to iterate with their tool - the software. Humans aren't perfect either; we're slow but m

When art is commoditized

 I've had the commoditization cycle stuck in my head for the past several days. (Being sick at home with a fever that was making my linguistic centers run rampant while the rest of my brain was saying "sleep, please, sleep" probably helped.) This article on an otherwise unrelated topic struck a chord: The Irascible Professor -  The teaching of English may not be dead after all In a nutshell: Lots of stuff gets written, and most of it is crap. But predicting which stuff will stand the test of time is beyond the powers of the contemporary critics. Now that's not a novel insight. But it made me think about the differences between the hard sciences (math, physics, etc), soft sciences (sociology, linguistics, etc) and that other stuff they teach in school that I could never take seriously. Simply put, science is about predictability. If you can't come up with a testable hypothesis, it's not science. So if you could come up with a testable hypothesis for "


Let me coin a term (for my audience of, well, zero): CPow I went to a marketing conference a few weeks back, and one of the themes was replacing Customer Satisfaction with Customer Loyalty. CSAT isn't enough - it's loyalty that matters, since losing a customer is fairly high-cost - you need to spend money to get a new customer, and you lost the investment you made in your previous customer. Plus your most loyal customers are your best advocates. And so on. Anyway, on the bleeding edge of this are things that the F/OSS movement and the Web mashing/remix community take for granted - the ability to re-use free things in new ways. Hence my term: CPow, short for Customer emPOWerment. Plus "Pow" sounds cool. In the technology space, what you generally want to do is to avoid being a commodity. IBM let the PC turn into a commodity, whereas Microsoft kept the OS from going down that road, and so IBM has languished and Microsoft has made gazillions. I think the successful