you’ll think

that voice assistants would just be about supporting more and more variety of questions, and connecting to more devices. But it’s been a steady slog towards expanding the number of languages to cater to the global population, stringing multiple commands in one smooth flow (without sounding like a robot which means detecting and parsing many many variants), and even identifying changing languages in communication. Things that happen in regular conversation just are more complicated than we would like them to be on paper.

that self driving cars would just be able to steering, recognising traffic lights and not hitting other cars. But it’s been more news of collaboration, visual cues for passengers, support contracts for maintenance, downtime, ensuring availability of the fleet, etc. Physical objects break down and need repair. Roads are not standard, and we basically just connect them every which way we can.

you’ll think

Movie – Gifted

Finally got round to watching a movie that I’ve been holding off on for awhile. Gifted – a simple heartwarming movie about a smart young girl, and how she is brought up and cared for.

Giftedness is something that is often brought up in the media, in the education system, and I guess it is something that I am irrevocably tied up with. None of that is wrong per se, just like how using the phrase “per se” is probably precocious in daily life outside of the law fraternity, and entitleds.

Some parts of the movie are hilarious, and I identify with. Not everything of course. Not such a crazy 8 year old mathematical genius. It’s too extreme. Not to say there are probably people like that, and how they end up leading way abnormal lives.

It’s hilarious how the grandmother derides “people who will watch sit-coms, bring her to Olive Garden”, haha. Oh well I only recently learnt of Olive Garden restaurants! =D

And also how she asks Frank about God, Jesus, and how nicely he answers her, as he would as a very smart man answer a very smart kid – in a more respectful and measured manner than more normal people would. Also in a more understanding, truthful, manner. After all, you can’t just outright lie or give evasive excuses to a smart kid.

 

Movie – Gifted

purpose

The usual pursuits of career, car, house, life, marriage, travel, computers, phones, I don’t know what else.

And the seemingly unsatisfactory-ness of it still.

Just what is it that I am searching for in this life.

purpose

how do you rate a pixel phone

Every year, people will compare the Nexus / Pixel hardware specs leaks and put it against other recent / flagship phones from Samsung and rest.
So let’s look back at the Google Pixel 2 / XL and see what was even special about it that was touted by Google at the actual launch
– Processor – standard top end. not special but ok.
– Screen – OLED and LCD. top end but apparently could be better as LG panels weren’t that good yet
– RAM – so so, not the highest, just under.
– Camera – touted. hardware supposedly better to work better with less cameras required. But software was heavily touted with enhanced portrait mode, enhanced HDR, motion pics.
– Squeezable Edge – rather gimmicky. not a clear diffentiator – Samsung-esque lame
– ARCore – AR stickers
– Google Lens – early release
– Free photo storage – 2 years free Google Photos
– auto song recognition

So do any of that make it worth it?? Hardware wise – I don’t think it was super better than any other top phone. But then, that’s it isn’t it, it depends on what China can produce for everyone.

Software wise – ARCore was ok but not life changing, it was fun to play with and show off but did’t go viral, Google Lens was fun but not viral either, Free photo storage is super appreciated but apparently not enough to sway the Samsungnites and Apples, processor and screen meh, camera quality great but not enough to sway too? song recognition is super fun.

So what else would still make the Pixel different from other phones?
– more better software like the camera and AR stuff? is it worth $100 more each?
– more free photo storage? – is this worth the maybe USD200 (estimate 1 TB used x 2 years)
– more early google apps and services? – for early adopters and nerds

Intangibles that people don’t realise
– super fast updates
– additional security chip – not heavily advertised
– Pixel Visual Core – underwhelming
– higher grade warranty promise, esp in US
– quite smooth performance, consistent over time
– no bloat, just because.
– Google Assistant super integrated. You like it or you hate it and can’t get rid of it.

Cons
– still no headphone jack
– poorer warranty support and repair in non-US country
– fewer purchase avenues
– fewer accessories like cases
– not cheap

I wouldn’t necessarily say that Pixel is the ultimate phone if you’re not into pure google services. But the hardware is just table stakes and the software/apps and support is the icing that is the differentiator.

So it’s to be expected that the Pixel 3 XL leaks seem meh.

How do I still like my Pixel 2 XL?
– still too big, if only they sold the Pixel 2 in Singapore with warranty I would have chosen that
– performance – super good
– headphone jack – still super annoying
– physical state – still super good
– the small gimmicky stuff – usually all v fun to me. not really tangibles but worth the fun.
Worth it compared to other phones?
– about $100-$200 too expensive otherwise a confirm recommend to anyone.
What other normal ppl need
– something cheaper, yet secure, yet reliable
– less frills, more dependency, security and reliability.
What the instagrammers need
– nothing, they can go buy iphones just because they can’t be seen without one

Should they sell a Pixel Watch – no
Pixel Book – no, too ex
Pixel Speaker – the Google Home, yes

What they need to push in services
– much better music streaming service with cheaper price, global availability
– a serious Google One service with proper perks, support, branding, marketing and benefits
– monetize the storage pricing and provide more services and branding to this
– put Google Photos front and center and integrate more
– same for Maps
– forget about RCS messaging
– exclusive integrations for only Pixels, otherwise all phones are getting the same Google apps what’s the point

how do you rate a pixel phone

cloud services

Microsoft “Cloud” revenue – up
Google “Cloud” revenue – up
IBM “Cloud” revenue – surprisingly higher in % of the pie than I previously thought.
SAP – also big cloud services

Hm.

Microsoft – I believe they have high adoption of Office 365, especially email and office suite. Due to ease of transition from Outlook and On-premise Exchange, due to need for Office apps, due to ease of management of Office licenses, AD integration. 2. Azure platform hosts of IAAS services. 3. Dynamics suite of products moving towards cloud host Dyn365 which counts more under cloud revenue than pure software.

IBM – Probably some crazy traditional large companies doing traditional systems on IBM services. It’s big, still big, and legacy enough that you wouldn’t move it easily.

AWS – lots of new age companies all started off on AWS and growing. It takes up a big growing new-age pie, especially of nascent cloud industry obviously. Doesn’t mean that it will stay biggest, but it’s a big headstart in this space and grows. Obviously they have the scale and infra to support it.

GCP – Frown. New. Small. 10%? Lack of a super strong differentiator or draw. Biggest input right now – in the enterprise space – AI/ML features, huge data ingestion and manipulation, cheaper prices. Basic IAAS – cheaper but not easy to adopt as no Active Directory, no legacy apps that can directly “upgrade” to GCP cloud version. Gsuite – still can’t compete fast enough with Office apps, unfortunately, it seriously needs to improve, and faster. AI/ML is great, but hard to adopt, too hard still. K8s is great, but also hard to adopt, and only suitable for huge web scale companies and new fancy apps. Overall Google services tend to be so far ahead of the curve that it’s hard for traditional migration but good if you have a Silicon Valley budget for a new age service.

So, cloud services is huge in that it is lumping together so many areas like IAAS, SAAS. Very different competitors in each segment, sometimes there are links and interdependency. Can’t just compare totally as a whole. So, to invest into IAAS, SAAS, or services? All three growing and maturing problably at different paces over the next decade. All will survive well for time to come. Nobody has time for everything!

cloud services

cars

Cars.

Well, actually not cars, but transport in general. I guess I’ve had a fair bit of time to think about transport, even if I’m not in the transport field (public transport, private, car industry, transportation industry, anything), maybe just a layman thoughts.

I dislike cars, for a long time. Since, a long time. I resisted taking driving lessons – my parents almost forced me too, after a lot of badgering. I didn’t want to take driving lessons because I felt it was an expensive waste of money (driving lessons and testing in SG isn’t cheap), because I thought driving in the city is lame, because I prefer taking public transport (habit? foolishness?), because I don’t have a car, because cars are expensive (they always say), because I didn’t enjoy driving, because I don’t have a value system where I feel good because I can drive.

But I got my license, eventually. It wasn’t like super flying colors or anything but it sufficed. I can drive well enough, I am comfortable driving, I can navigate, I know most of the roads here (I also always used to navigate from a physical map while my father drove).

I’ve driven some amounts in a few countries while travelling. It was ok. Not particularly enjoyable still, but it suffices for getting around.
I’ve driven some amounts in SG, it’s useful when things need to get done.

I still dislike driving! Even getting past the initial difficulty, and being technically competent, I still don’t like it!

But I can appreciate and like fast cars, sporty cars, Formula 1 cars, Ferraris, quick accelerations, etc etc.

But I think I am too rational, that I am too aware of the risks of the road – errant drivers, inattentive drivers, drivers straying off their line, drivers cutting into other paths, drivers driving distracted on the phone, mechanical failures, human failures. I lament driving for the risks of the road, for the need for me to keep paying attention, for wanting myself to be as physically fit and alert when driving. I lament the need to maintain a physical machine with oil, gears, batteries, steel, rubber. I lament the need to wait for traffic lights, parking, for the aircon to cool down the car, etc.

Driving and owning a car is merely trading one set of inconveniences (of public transport), with another (of maintaining a vehicle). At some point, each makes more sense.

Which brings me to my perpetual headache of car ownership vs public transport and how it’s all still such a huge mess.

Problem
– It is difficult to drop private transport until it can be totally and wholly replaced by public transport, in a better way.
– Specific use cases that are strongly better with a private car, will keep people anchored to their cars.
– Owning and investing in a private car will trigger increased usage of the private vehicle even when not absolutely necessary. Because sunk costs “it’s already paid for”, and because just-in-case “what if I need my car”

Car ownership costs
– car value
– fixed taxes, insurance, season parking
– upkeep/maintenance
Variables / consumables
– fuel
– tolls
– miscellaneous parking
– upkeep/maintenance

If fixed costs are a high %, then people will likely opt to keep using it, otherwise they are “wasting” the fixed costs invested in, and which is depreciating in a fixed manner regardless of use.
Hence costs need to be more strongly shifted over to variable costs if we want to encourage flexible usage.
Fixed costs are already paid, even if person opts to use public transport – in this case you would end up “double paying”, which doesn’t make sense. Unless public transport is still less than variable costs. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. But one shouldn’t have to keep making these choices! Public transport should and must always be cheaper and better! That’s the government’s responsibility!

But frankly, the ultimate calculation is in time value costs. How much is your time worth? How much does it bring value to you to save that 15 mins, 1 hour of your life, allowing you to do other things in the limited lifespan?

How then do we get out of this vicious cycle?
Free public transport if you already own a car? – doesn’t make sense
Bundle public transport costs into private vehicle ownership? – could work but high costs!
Free public transport for all? – unfair for those who do not travel? high govt costs? abuse?

It’s not easy to disrupt the equilibrium the world has found. All the infrastructure, policies, habits are all crafted and moulded around the current balance of private-public transport. Ride sharing, Uber, shared bikes, shared escooters are all disrupting it, but not sufficiently yet. A better taxi booking system does not a revolution make.


Update 2018-07-17: https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/news/paris-study-free-public-transportation-for-all/523772/ Paris is seriously considering. Why not?

cars

Crazy home network stuff to work on

Crazy = overkill by general consumer and even possibly SME standards.

  • secure remote VPN access
  • VLAN segregation of devices
  • guest portal
  • monitoring dashboard
  • more integrated smarthome controls

I’m glad to say that I already have the base infrastructure hardware connectivity down pat, already fully working and fully underutilised. It’s quite a feat when my TV utilises two network ports, one for direct TV streaming and one for Chromecast. Because latency is one of the worst culprits of “slow” feeling once you go past a few Mbps of internet access. Also HD movie and video streaming. Or rather browsing, which is worse as it doesn’t get to buffer sufficiently.

  • full switched network
  • distributed WAP direct to switch
  • local DNS forwarder
  • single SSID network
  • local media server
  • minecraft host, nas host, plex host, etc.

Things I would wish for that would be so awesome:

  • local internet cache
  • local Google services cache of gDrive, gPhotos, gMaps. I mean, I don’t need a public 10 Terabyte POP, but just my own files would be fun. Loading all your gphotos from Jurong isn’t the most fun, even if your processor and bandwidth can keep up. (looking forward to 10 years in the future. >10gbps bandwidth and <5ms latency?
Crazy home network stuff to work on

Tracking that’s so smart

There’s a surprisingly strong amount of suspicion, and wariness in the US/Silicon Valley towards the tech giants Facebook, Google, and other internet advertising companies. It’s way more than an outsider would expect. Firstly it’s already higher in US than other countries, and then again within the Silicon Valley-type, it’s even more intense.

As someone who just loves to the utility that Google products provided, it was quite confusing. Are these people just worked up over nothing? Are they competitors? Do they hate Google and Facebook because these two juggernauts are at competition with everyone else (eg Yelp)? Are Americans and Californian social justice warriors (SJW) just that into the entire privacy thing like they are into all kinds of bizarre activism that the rest of the world doesn’t really care as much about. Examples include US racial issues, marijuana usage, LGBT issues, and more.

I honestly still feel like amongst so many companies, at least Google keeps itself in check, and does more right than wrong. Compared to other companies. They have one important luxury – that of a good and high revenue and profit where they can choose to do the right thing, instead of prioritising profits. Example recent case in point – giving up Pentagon AI contracts to preserve their moral identity and continue to attract AI and engineering talent. It’s hard to take the moral high horse if you’re a startup trying to make every dollar it can, or if you’re in an average company who needs to be concerned about year to year revenue – ie the normal world that isn’t top 10 SV unicorns.

One of the greatest fears lately has always been people wondering if your phone is spying on you, whether the presence of people discussing a particular topic lead to the sudden appearance of related ads in your Facebook or ad pages even if you didn’t type it in. A lot of that is probably confirmation bias, but I pretty much guess now that it is the close geographic proximity (via location history) of you and your counterparts, and them doing the recent searches on their devices, that leads ad targeting to also suggest the same items to you. Nobody directly recorded your conversation (as wild a guess it is, I feel it’s way too much of an overstep for them to do it, too inefficient to record and parse everything), but it kind of seemed like it.

GDPR has the world in a mess, and the EU keeps dolling out fines and weird judgements. What will the advertising future look like? Would we ever go back to the straight up less-differentiated ads like print newspapers and tv channels? It was definitely also partly targeted, but less apparent, way less specific. But it didn’t require so much cookies and tracking over platforms.
No matter what, ads remain the most viable method of survival. You, me, anyone can’t keep paying subscription fees per source that we consume from. Over 100 news sources, over 100 applications are used in our lives, it’s economically impossible to subscribe to them all. And yet it’s odd because the marketing ad budget must have come from the things we pay for. So in a way we are still paying for the ad spend. Remember marketing costs go directly into the cost of goods sold to you. Less marketing = more value to you, usually.

Tracking that’s so smart

google duplex

It’s been years since Google I/O has been so impressive. Not since the parachuting Google Glass stunt has the new Google really truly surprised everyone. The in-betweens were all smaller iterations of Google products, tweaking through the Android versions, Google messaging apps, and slowly building basic machine-learning termed AI into their apps. Even all the recent AI push has all manifested as machine-learned models simplified down to single functions done well – ie smart identification in photos.

IO18 was a stunner. https://youtu.be/ogfYd705cRs?t=34m58s
Nobody anticipated Google showing off this incredible demo of a Google Assistant triggered Google Duplex voice call to real humans, and holding a full call conversation, so smoothly, intelligently and realistically. None of the journalists knew, none of the fans knew, and it seemed like even the Silicon Valley people working on AI did not see this coming – that is how far ahead of all other announcements this is. All other companies are working on machine learning bits, just trying to optimize large data sets, and these guys literally blew everyone out the water on so many fronts.
1. How smooth the voice sounds – even current Google Assistant on Google Home is nowhere near. And sheesh they only just announced basic improvements like 6 more voices, continued actions stringing multiple commands. If your GA is so advanced, why are we only getting such simple options. It’s like us here using language talking to a 2 year old and over there is a 6 year old hiding behind.
2. How smooth the conversation is – contextually it is pretty darn coherent. Especially considering it wasn’t a basic simple idea conversation flow but rather with some jumping, clarification, repeats, etc. Does this mean they mastered the basic flow long ago? How long ago?
3. How long the conversation – all we have with GA right now is like a 2-3 sentences max, and Google touts how good their GA is at contextual compared to Alexa. And yes GA is super good at it compared to Alexa and Siri and Cortana. So where did this beast of a full conversation come from? It’s 10 times longer, and that’s exponentially harder.
4. How realistically it mimics humans – in the (fake) pauses, non-word sounds, acknowledgements, intonation.
5. Comprehension of the human responses – the heavy accents, incomplete sentences. Wow why do we still need to talk to GA like a baby.

It is So Good that the reactions to the demo aren’t even about which portion it did well – it did everything so darn well – that the comments are whether it is a good thing to have and whether it needs to declare in advance that it’s a computer.

It deserves a standing ovation for the sheer accomplishment, and also audacity to show this to such a large audience.

Amazon and Microsoft only just announced basic ability to share commands with each other. Fairly straightforward computer API calling. Siri is dead silent. GA is just running it’s own race now.

There are some really good comments on it:
In response to “GA needs to start the call by saying it is GA”, and “We should make AI sound different from humans” or “voice assistant should stick to sounding like a computer”, these are like such standard instinctive human responses to overwhelming new technology.
And then someone said if humans get so dependent on the above cues, would you realize if a rogue AI drops the declaration? And then what even if you create an “AI accent”, it is only going to trend and people / hippies / kids will just adopt the new fangled AI accent.
And what would you do after that?
Trying to stop something artificially or regulate it, will just trigger other disrupters, hackers, etc.

Whatever it is, a new front has been revealed, like when Boston Dynamics showed off their walking running jumping cartwheeling bots.

When these people said AI is their new focus and is the future of Google, they already knew this, long ago.

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/05/humans-acting-like-robots-vs-robots-acting-like-humans/559955/

But maybe small talk has a purpose. The urban theorist (and hyper-observer of the city) Jane Jacobs thought that all these dumb interactions were the social fabric. She wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities:

The sum of such casual, public contact at a local level—most of it fortuitous, most of it associated with errands, all of it metered by the person concerned and not thrust upon him by anyone—is a feeling for the public identity of people, a web of public respect and trust, and a resource in time of personal or neighborhood need. The absence of this trust is a disaster to a city street.

After Jacobs published her book in 1961, most American cities suburbanized, cutting people off from this kind of casual contact with the people around them. But at the same time, they connected through other means, the telephone primary among them.

Already, the push-button service framework, Uber for everything, has eroded this last bastion of local chitchat. Google Duplex will simply extend that trend even to those businesses who have not given in to the computerization of their reservation systems. And I don’t except myself from this trend: I hate making these little phone calls as much as anyone else.

But if Jacobs is right that simply making conversation with our fellow human beings—“most of it associated with errands”—is what generates trust in the world around us, then what happens when no one is ever quite sure if Alexis or Duplexis is calling?

Having spent more time in old-style Singapore HDB neighbourhoods over the past 2 years, going more to the small shops, kopitiams, sub neighbourhood centres, it’s been a homecoming from 10 years of mainly shopping malls? For a period I was mainly interacting with large neighbourhood malls and central shopping districts. It was kindof fresh to go to wet markets, brick and mortar shops. It was cheaper, more friendly, less refined, less upscale, more casual, more interactive, less predictable, less reliable, less convenient, more authentic. yeah. But I’ve also done alot more online shopping hah.

But I find that the value applies more to food outlets than other shops.

And requoted from http://thoughtwax.com/2018/05/google-duplex/

Kurt Vonnegut – buying an envelope
Anyway, I take my pages and I have this thing made out of steel, it’s called a paper clip, and I put my pages together, being careful to number them, too, of course. So I go downstairs, to take off, and I pass my wife, the photo journalist Jill Krementz, who was bloody high tech then, and is even higher tech now. She calls out, “Where are you going?” Her favorite reading when she was a girl was Nancy Drew mysteries, you know, the girl detective. So she can’t help but ask, “Where are you going?” And I say, “I am going out to get an envelope.” And she says, “Well, you’re not a poor man. Why don’t you buy a thousand envelopes? They’ll deliver them, and you can put them in a closet.” And I say, “Hush.”

So I go down the steps, and this is on 48th Street in New York City between Second Avenue and Third, and I go out to this newsstand across the street where they sell magazines and lottery tickets and stationery. And I know their stock very well, and so I get an envelope, a manila envelope. It is as though whoever made that envelope knew what size of paper I’m using. I get in line because there are people buying lottery tickets, candy, and that sort of thing, and I chat with them. I say, “Do you know anybody who ever won anything in the lottery?” And, “What happened to your foot?”

Finally I get up to the head of the line. The people who own this store are Hindus. The woman behind the counter has a jewel between her eyes. Now isn’t that worth the trip? I ask her, “Have there been any big lottery winners lately?” Then I pay for the envelope. I take my manuscript and I put it inside. The envelope has two little metal prongs for going through a hole in the flap. For those of you who have never seen one, there are two ways of closing a manila envelope. I use both of them. First I lick the mucilage—it’s kind of sexy. I put the little thin metal diddle through the hole—I never did know what they call them. Then I glue the flap down.

I go next to the postal convenience center down the block at the corner of 47th Street and Second Avenue. This is very close to the United Nations, so there are all these funny-looking people there from all over the world. I go in there and we are lined up again. I’m secretly in love with the woman behind the counter. She doesn’t know it. My wife knows it. I am not about to do anything about it. She is so nice. All I have ever seen of her is from the waist up because she is always behind the counter. But every day she will do something with herself above her waist to cheer us up. Sometimes her hair will be all frizzy. Sometimes she will have ironed it flat. One day she was wearing black lipstick. This is all so exciting and so generous of her, just to cheer us all up, people from all over the world.

So I wait in line, and I say, “Hey what was that language you were talking? Was it Urdu?” I have nice chats. Sometimes not. There is also, “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you go back to your little tinhorn dictatorship where you came from?” One time I had my pocket picked in there and got to meet a cop and tell him about it. Anyway, finally I get up to the head of the line. I don’t reveal to her that I love her. I keep poker-faced. She might as well be looking at a cantaloupe, there is so little information in my face, but my heart is beating. And I give her the envelope, and she weighs it, because I want to put the right number of stamps on it, and have her okay it. If she says that’s the right number of stamps and cancels it, that’s it. They can’t send it back to me. I get the right stamps and I address the envelope to Carol in Woodstock.

Then I go outside and there is a mailbox. And I feed the pages to the giant blue bullfrog. And it says, “Ribbit.”

And I go home. And I have had one hell of a good time.

Electronic communities build nothing. You wind up with nothing. We are dancing animals. How beautiful it is to get up and go out and do something. We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.

This is super entertaining. I like how the author is described as “black humor, satiric voice, and incomparable imagination”.

google duplex