Whispers & Screams
And Other Things

If You Can't Beat Em Join Em

Yesterday evening (Pacific Time), while we in Europe were tucked up in our dreams, Elon Musk hosted a press conference for one of his most exciting ventures yet. The organisation is called Neuralink and its stated aim is to develop implantable brain-machine interfaces.

Those who are aware of Mr Musks previous statements in this field will know that he has been a vocal Cassandra when it comes to the fate of mankind against the rise of the machines. Indeed for the imaginative among us it doesn't take too much of a leap to envisage a future where hyper capable and mechanised super intelligences are able to see our flesh and blood existence as nothing more than a primitive curiosity to be regarded perhaps at the level of a pet.

So when I heard about the press conference and the hubbub that its announcement had aroused in the cognoscenti press my own curiosity was thoroughly piqued. You see, since I myself began to muse about this potentially existential threat to mankind I have always seen it as a distraction as I have felt that the process of human augmentation, who's origins can be traced as far back as Long John Silver, would be the future where any 'rise of the machines' would carry us with them. Indeed it is more likely that, if we are to seek out a dystopian slant on this discussion, the horror future would be one where augmented humanity (wealth) and vanilla humanity (poverty) were at odds with each other.

Notwithstanding the philosophical discussions however, the announcement last night, as is so often the case, has proven to be a lot less than the aficionados predicted and a lot more than the sceptics expected. The company (Neuralink) appears to be making solid progress albeit not in human bodies. Indeed Mr Musk himself appeared to blurt out to the chagrin of the scientists around him that they had successfully tested their tech in a monkey. Putting aside my own personal misgivings about trialling these things on unsuspecting lab rats or monkeys, this would appear to be pretty significant news. If we are to take the claims at face value, the technology has now been proven in principle and we should not underplay the significance of this revelation.

Science has been integrating tech with flesh and bone for decades but it is the incursion into the last bastion of the unexplored, the human brain that makes this so important. We need only look at the global attention that has been given to The Human Brain Project to understand the way this captures our attention. Neuroscientists have been studying for years to understand the workings of the supercomputers we all carry around with us and in connecting machines to our brains we would seem to be a whole lot closer to that day. Questions of the nature of consciousness and the existential nature of what we may call our identity or soul fly around the perimeters of this discussion but at its heart lies the notion that our bodies and indeed our brains are chemical machines and when we can understand the systems in action we can begin to harness them and make them work to our greater good (and bad).

Mr Musk has announced that he and his company of pioneering scientists intend to place their systems into a human in 2020 and this if accomplished will indeed be a day that will go down in history for the long term. So we wait and we watch. A world now used to the headlong nature of progress will perhaps be wowed once again as science takes us to new heights. The future is ours to shape and as with any new technology in the hands of us human apes it will not be a question of what the technology CAN do that will be the measure of the science but rather what we as a species CHOOSE to do with it. Lets hope we're up to the challenge.

Neuralink website here

Livestream of event here

Much more here

 

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Venus Over Irvine

venus-over-irvine

I got home tonight at about 8 pm at the end of what has been a very clear day. The kind of day that just about suggests that winter is over. The skies are still clear now and the stars are looking great as they almost always do up here in the hills. So, lately Ive been experimenting with my camera. Its a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ40. It seems like its quite a good camera. It takes great shots and seems to have loads of gizmos and functions. One of the functions I've been intrigued with lately is the one where it takes a long exposure shot of the night sky. You need to hold it really still or it just produces a mess so I've lately taken to just putting it down on something to take a picture as I dont have a tripod.

I took this picture from my upstairs windowsill looking west over Kilmarnock and Irvine and, if it wasnt so dark youd see Arran out there over the water. The resulting picture looks pretty good.
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Spotify SpotiFM Lastify Last.FM

As someone already devoted to another music platform my introduction to Spotify was met with not a little scepticism. ‘Surely this can’t be better than Last.fm, I thought to myself as I curiously downloaded the app and signed up.

Well it turned out I was wrong.

Well ok perhaps not completely wrong. A common theme amongst most folks is to position Spotify and Last.fm as direct competitors. While there are some superficial similarities, the case is oversimplified since Spotify and Last.fm each provide many unique features. The more I use both, the more I see how they can work together. Last.fm helps me discover new music and track my listening habits through the years and seems to be more of a social networking platform while Spotify sits on top playing most of the actual music.

In actual fact the two organisations are increasingly working together with the introduction of a new facility to scrobble tracks from Spotify to the Last.FM profile. If all this sounds like chinese to you and you like your music, I strongly suggest getting registered and giving both sites a try.

I personally dont use Last.FM to play much music anymore, opting instead for scrobbling from my home theatre PC running windows media player. I prefer to use the scrobbling feature to collect up all my listening habits into my profile and thus enable the social networking and music recommendation side of the platform using spotify to listen to tracks I dont actually have in my own library. Another cool feature of spotify is the ability to quickly import other peoples playlists into the app and listen straight away (www.spotifyplaylists.co.uk).

All in all its a fantastic combination which, when used in tandem with ones own MP3 music collection is about as good as Web3.0 for muso's can get.

Some other useful counterparts to the two core apps are shown below:

    • freshspotify – Tracks newly released music on Spotify and compares it with your favourite artists on Last.fm. Subscribe to artist RSS feeds (or email) to be notified of updates. This is a really useful service: you can browse the site (which nicely summarizes the new Spotify releases) and sign in whit a google account to add artist alerts based on your Last.fm profile (up to a maximum of 100 artists).




    • Spotify.fmFrank Quist’s new and improved webtool to list the latest Spotify releases of all your favourite artists on Last.fm. Also has a neat RSS feed and the ability to search based on both username or tag and search on similar artists.




    • Spotify updates from Last.fm – This app can look for any artist in your library (not just your top 50 artists) and lets you specify the playcount range to consider too. It will also return recommended artists, so this is a great way to discover more music from artists you’re perhaps not too aware of, and complements the other apps well. Developer OnDistantShores (who is also responsible for the excellent Universal Scrobbler) promises more updates soon, including the option to specify a tag and search new releases by artists with that tag: brilliant!




    • Last.fm Spotify Search – Script that adds a wee green note icon next to tracks, albums and artists on Last.fm’s website. To use, install Greasemonkey then add the script. You can then click the note icon to search in Spotify. I find this one really useful, it saves on typing and binds Last.fm and Spotify together nicely.




    • Lastify - A plug-in that bolts onto the regular Spotify client and lets you Love, Ban, and Tag tracks back to Last.fm.




    • Last.fm + Spotify + Find new albums – Newly updated, this webapp tells you what’s new in Spotify based on your Last.fm Top 50 artist favourites. It can also match against recommendations: a great way to discover new bands. Results are grouped by when they were added to Spotify and let you click both the album/single and artist. There’s also an RSS feed you can subscribe to, and the app now lets you filter to view only singles or albums as well as as “show tracks” dropdown for each album.




Groups


    • Spotify – The best Spotify group on Last.fm, leader Faz regularly checks in and updates the Shoutbox, and there are always active discussions going on.




    • Scrobble for Spotify – Originally set-up before Spotify had a scrobble feature, the Scrobble for Spotify group continues to attract new members.

 

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Furby on steroids?? Meet Chumby

ChumbySay "Chumby" and an image of a squat beanbag with a touch-screen comes to mind--that is, if you know what a Chumby is.

Steve Tomlin, is the genius behind the evolution of the Chumby from a single gadget that can pull weather, music, news, photos and trivia from the Web into an assortment of "powered by Chumby" devices.

Tomlin, Chumby Industries' chief executive,  has spent the past few months striking partnerships with some of the largest consumer electronics companies, including Sony, Broadcom, Marvell and Samsung. The partnerships will enable the port of Chumby's open-source operating system to a wide range of gadgets, including TVs, Blu-ray players and clock and tabletop radios, some before the end of the year. 

Tomlin, who prefers consumers to think of Chumby as a content and media business, based on an ecosystem of widgets and third-party developers has a vision of Chumby's future that centres on bringing a personal multimedia Web experience to as many connected consumer electronics as possible. He is quoted as saying: “Selling someone an LCD in a plastic frame with a memory card is not a compelling product… The challenge is to reinvent how to share photos and media.”

The first Chumby-powered photo frame will be able to display content from photo sites Flickr and Photobucket, along with accessing social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as news feeds, Internet radio and weather forecasts. Content can be be pushed to other ‘powered by Chumby’ devices so that, for example, users can share photos with other members of their Chumby social network. Chumby's software recognizes other Chumby owners, so users will be able to share photos by "pushing" them over the air to their friends.


Gadgets such as the now extinct Nabaztag and Chumby hope to fill a burgeoning space in the phenomenon to merge the online world with the offline world and it is surprising that there have not been more of these types of product released to the market place.


This will surely change greatly over the coming 12 months.

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Revolutionary new UK plug

This is such a great idea and as usual with the greatest ideas, oh so simple.

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