The Wealth of Khan…

If this post is the first exposure you’re having to Khan Academy, if definitely won’t be your last (whether you have school-aged children or not). The online collection of over 3,000 “mini-lessons” was started by Salman Khan (an ex-hedge fund analyst) as a way to tutor his niece on some challenging math concepts. He figured is was easiest just to post them on YouTube so she could access them anytime and lo and behold six years later the little simple approach he started has delivered over 135 MILLION lessons to people all over the world and is considered to be having a tremendously significant impact on the delivery of eduction to pupils and how to leverage the internet to do so.

I had heard about Khan roughly a year ago after the press got hold of Bill Gate’s endorsement of Salman and that Mr. Gates uses Khan Academy for his kids. After a recent 60 Minutes episode – I went there with my 10 year old to check it out and can now safely say that it’s a daily part of my son’s homework routine. Two videos per day – one has to be math oriented (currently multi-variant algebraic equations) and the other can be math or something else that interests him. If you haven’t been there – and you have kids (even if you don’t) – it’s a treasure trove a bite-sized 2-7 minutes “lessons” on almost all the major areas of human endeavor including math, physics, history, science, chemistry, biology, economics/finance, computer science, biology and many many more. Hey, if it’s good for Bill….


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Watson Wins It.

“I for one welcome our new machine overlord,”

If you haven’t already heard it, you will – over and over again. It’s what Ken Jennings wrote below his Final Jeopardy! wager knowing full well he and his other humanoid competitor were going to lose to a computer.

For all you “Singulartarians” out there – IBM’s super computer Watson, which beat two of the best Jeopardy! players ever tonight, could very well be one of the milestones that Mr. Ray Kurzweil will point to that validates his theory that within 35 years, human existence will be completely transformed by the overwhelming processing power of computers when we physically merge with hyper-intelligent technology. Want to be totally freaked? – read his book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.

If you want to read some color commentary on the actual performance of Watson – Forbes.com’s account is pretty good.

Here’s a section of the piece that is demonstrative of the fragility, and also the complexity, inherent in Watson for it to be able to compete against humans… because the questions on Jeopardy! are displayed in all capital letters, “Having to read all-caps was going to confuse Watson’s ability to parse meaning from a long phrase without knowing which are the proper nouns or acronyms. Fortunately for the Watson team IBM Research also happens to have some math geeks around who can write-up a quick statistical program to derive the true case of the letters in any phrase.”

“I for one welcome our new machine overlord,”

6 Degrees of Black Sabbath

I’ve now officially crossed the threshold of being obsessed – here’s another great hack that came out during The San Francisco Music Hack Day back in mid-May. It’s called Six Degrees of Black Sabbath. It’s simple…. just type in the name of two musical artists and see how many “degrees” they’re separated by (just like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon). For music geeks – it’s a colossally beautiful time waster. Try to see how many degrees you can get with your pairings… the more degrees – the more obscure the connection. I’ve been using it as part of my son’s musical education – want to know how Pete Townsend is related to Black Eyed Peas or how Keith Moon is related to Timbaland? – just punch it in, sit back and let it be revealed.  What’s surprising in messing with this is discovering instances when two totally random and unrelated artists are actually pretty closely connected… here are a few examples:

Paul Anka to Geddy Lee: 6 steps (total surprise on this one)

Jimmy Page to Lady Gaga: 7 steps

MGMT to Juice Newton: 9 steps

Pat Metheny to Colin Moulding (from XTC): 18 steps

Have at it. If you get a connection that’s more than 18 steps – post a comment – I’d be curious to see it!

Trends We Really Like: Personal Music Showers

Just came across this – Japanese Burger Kings are installing what they’re calling “musical showers” that allow customers to plug in their iPods and other MP3 players into jacks built into the walls where the music is played from a cone above the table and it audible only by those under it. No longer do you have to be subjugated to corporate muzak or generic pop music mixes designed to offend (or delight) no one.

Each table can have its own music thing going on without disturbing anybody else. Given that with my iPhone, I constantly have lots of playlists and songs at my finger tips at all times, I’d be up for this being in every restaurant, book store and other retail outlets where one hangs out. Let’s hope this catches fire.

It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing…. Including Rock.

Here’s a super cool music hack that I came across while perusing BoingBoing from last weekend’s San Francisco’s Music Hack Day. It’s called Swinger from Tristan Jehan, PhD from MIT Media Lab. It effectively takes any song and transforms it into a swing version of the song. For those not familiar, a swung note or shuffle note is a style of playing, mainly in jazz-influenced music, where notes with equal written time values are performed with unequal durations, usually as alternating long and short notes. Therefore, a swing or shuffle rhythm is the one produced by playing repeated pairs of notes in this way.

So the magic of The Swinger is it converts any song into a swing song, through a program written with a bit of python code. It does this by taking each beat and time-stretching the first half of each beat while time-shrinking the second half (so it takes songs written say in 4/4 time and transforms them into unequal durations – creating a swing rhythm).  The effect is almost magical.  Here are some examples (I’ve included the “straight” version of White Rabbit for comparison):

Jefferson Airplane: White Rabbit “Straight”

Jefferson Airplane: White Rabbit

Metallica: Sandman “Straight”

Metallica: Sandman

Guns and Roses: Sweet Child O Mine

The Beatles: I Will

Guiltless iPhone Games

Waiting to pick-up your car from the mechanic? Stuck in the doctor’s waiting room? Sitting around for the call to board the plane? If you got your kids with you and an iPhone there lots of ways to kill chunks of time. A couple of apps that I’ve been playing with that are both fun and actually help the kids with spelling and vocabulary are Boggle and Hangman.

My son and I are hooked on Boggle big time. We’ve been playing the analog version for several months and the iPhone app version is a well-constructed, easy-to-play, and arguably a more fun way to go. What’s great about it is that after your turn, you can see all the possible words from letters you’ve rolled – which can be encouraging and also very humbling. You can scroll through the list of all the possible words and actually learn new oness (um… ilia? sigil?). Also, it tracks your performance, scores, word averages, etc plus there are levels you can unlock and other fun little extras.

Hangman is also a fun and guilt free time killer allowing you and the kiddies to use the noggin to not only spell the words but figure out what the word is. The timer adds another dimension on which to compete. So simple yet can keep everybody engaged for quite a bit of time. If you can get over the essential morbidness of the game’s premise – you’re good to go. There are lots of versions out there but my favorite is the plain old classic version.

It’s not a game but I have to give a short shout-out for Shazam. My son now launches it almost everytime he hears a song and the app, which is able to recognize the song and provide a name of the track, the band/artist and the album it’s from, is down right awesome.