Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Til 3

Design: Airports should let you know your going to die

Music:Brian Eno - By This River

Word: Saturnine meaning sluggish in temperament; gloomy; taciturn

Nerd: Grace Hopper was cooler then i imagined

Tech:Billboards can recognise age and gender

Design: Pizza Boxes can be better

Science: Pierre de Maricourt started science by showing magnetic action at a distance which contradicted Aristotle.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A failed Mturk translation test

The Mturk is Amazon's platform where you can put up jobs for people to do. These tend to be things like translation or image categorisation that humans are good at but computers are not.

According to Panos Ipeirotis' research mturk workers seem to be highly educated. The majority having degrees and about 10% having postgraduate degrees. Much mturk work is boring and probably does not use the skills these well educated workers have.

A few days ago google announced sponsorship for projects they think are carrying out good work. One winner was

"The Khan Academy will receive $2 million toward funding its work on the "make educational content available online for free" theme. The academy does just that, with a library of over 1,800 videos with lessons on math, science, finance, and history.

Bill Gates is a big fan of the Khan academy "This guy is amazing," he wrote. "It is awesome how much he has done with very little in the way of resources."

I am also a huge fan of the Khan academy I think that these videos and other online education videos such as MIT's online courses have amazing potential to transform the education of millions of people.

How far could googles 2 million grant stretch? Obviously it is up to Mr Khan to decide how to use his resources but I thought it would be interesting to see if the mturk could be used to translate one of his mathematics videos. The languages with over 100 million speakers are Mandarin, Spanish, English, Hindi, Bengali, Cantonese, Arabic,Portuguese, Russian and Japanese. 10 languages for 2000 videos would be 20,000 video translations. If each video cost 100 dollars to translate that would spend the 2 million dollars google donated. If this cost can be reduced more languages could be added.

A mathematics video is not something the average person can translate. However we know a large number of turkers have degrees and many are from India where they would likely have an understanding of English and Hindi or Bengali.

I tried an experiment to see if I could get one of Khan's videos translated into Hindi using the mturk at a cost of 5 dollars. Unfortunately I failed. The first person who accepted the task dictated what Khan said into text. Which is useful but not what I was looking for. The second person posted up another video on Solving linear inequalities in English not a translation of Khan's video.

This small experiment tells me that you need to be very clear on the mturk how you ask for a task to be completed. It also says that it might be worthwhile once you find someone who understands and completes the task to encourage them to translate other videos rather than rely on the vagaries of who happens to accept your mturk task.

This experiment ignored the problem of copyright. Khan owns his videos and it is unfair for someone to come along and copy him. I was not trying to steal any glory from Mr Khan with this experiment just to see if the mturk could be used to translate his videos.

Other people have successfuly used mturk to reduce the cost of translations. 'How I reduced translation costs of 200 articles from $9000 to $46' is an interesting article on one successful usage. This tells me that the problem was more likely with my unclear instructions than with the mturk platform. You can even monitor translations taking place in the mturk here so I still think this method would be cost effective. However my simple experiment failed.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Music: I have had this song stuck in my head for ten years after hearing it once. I finally figured out the name. The Swains - Numberless As The Sands On The Seashore

Science: What happens if you put your hand into the LHC stream?. I also like that bra is a word <

History: You could get excommunicated for believing that god could not create a four dimensional universe or even mulitple universes due to the 297 condemnations of 1277. This is pretty odd to think guys in 1277 were being condemned for things physicists get condemned for today.

Film: The last exorcist is a good horror film. Full of ambiguities and non obvious twists. The wikipedia review is fair "It doesn't fully deliver on the chilly promise of its Blair Witch-style premise, but The Last Exorcism offers a surprising number of clever thrills."

Beer: Homebrew should do more better videos like this one

Maths: Drop a printed map of the land on the land and there must be some common point.

Word of the day: Muckefuck means bad coffee particularly substitute coffee

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Shampoo does not make any sense (Kaye effect)

Medieval love letters mainly involved explanations of previous sexual assaults
"Even when you were unwilling, resisted as much as you could, and tried to dissuade me, since your nature was weaker I often forced you to consent with threats and blows"

Iron and Wine do a great version of "waiting for superman"

There are some fun retro howto documentaries on burning people to death on an industrialised scale

Malware attacks have moved onto nuclear programs

You can get the illicit thrill of buying drugs through sandwiches

Other people dislike Diageo

Word of the day: Götterdämmerung

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Bayeux Tapestry is a Swashbuckling Adventure

I went to see the Bayeux tapestry a few days ago. If you are ever in Northern France go see it. It is an amazing experience to see a thousand year old hand made item, particularly one that tells a story. Seeing the individual threads and mistakes of something that old is just breathtaking.

But one thing that struck me about it is how fun the story is. I imagined it either as a dry scolarly repetition of the story or an ancient piece of propaganda. Instead it is more of a swashbuckling adventure. Compare one swashbuckling film 'The Princess Bride' with the tapestry and see the similarity. They both have

Harold gets kidnapped when he lands in France

Harold rescues two men from Quicksand

I really miss quicksand it used to be everywhere "nearly 3 percent of the films in that era (the 60s) showed someone sinking in mud or sand or oozing clay". But you just don't see it anymore. It has sadly gone the way of grappling hooks and that using a knife to slide down a sail trick.

A guy they are trying to catch uses a rope to escape.

Forced Marriage
Williams daughter is married by herself with a priest slapping her.

The princess bride marriage is also forced

God's Hand
Monty Python style God's hand comes from the clouds.

Which is a bit like having a miracle man around

Sword Fights

And the tapestry has all sorts of other stuff you see in matinee adventures like horse chases, giant animals, oaths, dragons and divine heavenly light

In Table form you can see the genre cliches

Obviously the Bayeux Tapestry served many purposes at the time. But I think we might underestimate one of those was entertainment. You could remake this story now as 'Indian Jones and the Norman Conquests', it is already in comic book form.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thoughts on France

Some things I noticed on a recent trip to France. None are earth shattering.

1. The Rise of the robots. The Hotels, McDonalds the Petrol Stations are all computer booths.

I can think of a few reasons for this. The French all seem to have credit cards so that makes it easier to have card run business. It also means that most shops look at you funny if you try pay with a 50 euro note.

I have heard French labour laws make hiring/firing people difficult so maybe using machines is efficient in a high labour cost country.

Eventually the same effects will happen here and many of these sorts of jobs will be automated in the next few years.

2. Desperado beer is inexplicably popular given how much good booze France has.

You see aisles of the stuff, people in queues have six packs of it. The only explanation I can think of is that wine has become stronger recently leaving a gap in the market for stronger beer. still this stuff is only 5.8% so though strongish it does not fill in the 8% light wine gap.

3. Sophie le giraffe. It is like a secret society. Parents around Ireland have been sneaking in this teething aid. Some friends smuggled back 4 for their friends. I was aware of the child minding powers of savanna ungulates. They have a series of creches here but whoever starts importing these into our homes in Ireland will make a few quid

4. "All our beef is French and Irish" Most restaurants had a sign like this displayed. This was the only non local food that was advertised as such. Our farmers tend to come across as EU sponging yokels but if Irish beef is the one food that is displayed as not French they must be doing something right.

5. An active lifestyle is encouraged which is good. There was via ferrata all over the area of the alps I was in and phone numbers to check canyoning conditions for particular rivers. I presume the French avoid getting constantly sued for this sort of fun.

Basically France is a great spot for your holidays.