Sunday, January 8, 2017

Voice Controlled AI Devices - A Reaction Post

In response to the article about voice-controlled boxes being activated by a news item about how a kid managed to buy a dollhouse + cookies off Amazon via the voice control.

Interpreting sound has never been an easy thing. Not for humans, and definitely not for computers! If you actually think about it, it's not that hard to imagine how hard it is for a computer to understand speech and sounds. For example:
   * How many times have you had trouble understanding someone's accent? Or had a misunderstanding because you misheard someone's muffled speech over a noisy/muffled/faint/crackling/unreliable phone?  Well, guess what, for a computer doing voice recognition, the only input it's got is the sound coming in from the microphone... which of course is mixed in with everything else going on sonically in that environment (e.g. TV's, smartphones, gaming consoles, music players, rangehoods, kitchen equipment, aircon, running taps, open windows/traffic-noise/neighbours, bickering flatmates, etc.). And that's not to mention that the users may be out of range of the microphone, or the microphones may be cheap trash bought for bargin basement prices, and have been wired backwards...

   * How many times have you been watching a film or tv show, and found yourself lurching for the fire escape as a siren sounded on screen? Or reached for your phone, only to realise that it wasn't your phone ringing, but that of the lady at the next table? Or perhaps you've responded to someone calling your name, only to find that a stranger had been calling another stranger, and not you (the now slightly embarrassed sucker trying to pretend that you didn't just not-answer to your name). Clearly, even us humans get it wrong quite often, but at least we often have the benefit of *context*, the ability to use our other senses to diambiguated the situation, and a few other "on-the-fly" techniques. (This probably goes some way towards explaining why there's a reason that people like me really don't like answering phonecalls or having to call people on the phone...). Anyways, if it's hard for us humans to get this stuff right, expect the computers to have an even harder time to disambiguate all of this!

Inspired by all this, I wondered what a "day in the life" of one of these voice recognition boxes would be, when deployed in a domestic environment that's not kindof far from the "idealised model-human" fantasy that designers often find themselves falling back to... The answer was that it would feel like they were a lost and isolated operative thrust into a war zone - "hostile enemy territory"...

First Steps with Rust

A few days ago, I suddenly got the urge to download Rust and have a little play around with it. Truth be told, I've been hearing some good things about it, and seeing as they now have a stable version out, I felt it was finally time to give it a little play around.

So far, I've played around with it for about 3 days. There's still a lot I don't know about the thing, but at the same time, I now have a decent feel for some "everyday aspects" of coding in this language.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

2017 Kickoff - Holiday Inspirations

We're a week into the new year now, and as most of us return to work from our holidays, I'd like to mention a bunch of interesting stuff I came across in the second half of my holiday (i.e. the stuff that came after alternating between lounging around like a vegetable and running around going to exotic locations for fun). I've gotta say, it's been great having a break!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

End of Year Rambling - 2016 Edition

Lo and behold, it's already the end of December, and the last day of 2016 too! How time flies...

Pardon the lack of updates here over the past month(s). As you may have noticed, it's been a rather hectic few months for me as I'm currently locked into a soul-sucking death march tussle with my PhD project (also known as the dreaded "write up"). There's still a few short/long months left before I'll be done with it; whether it's short or long depends on your worldview - short when it comes to the mountain of work remaining (eek!) and long when thinking about the amount of time/energy required to get it all done (double eek!). On the bright side though, come May 1st (all going to plan, fingers-crossed), I'll finally be able to resume work on my ever-growing backlog of 1000x more exciting projects... Hang in there Blender animators - there's heaps of goodness just around the corner!

Therefore, the past week and a half I've been having a "real Christmas vacation" - that is, no work, no work-like things, and no "projects"... Just taking a break, and enjoying life like any "normal/regular/sane" human being does when this time of the year rolls around ;)  So, I'll keep this post short, so that I can get back to my holidays :)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Regarding the recent quakes...

In case you haven't heard, there was a massive 7.5 earthquake north of Christchurch (near Hamner Springs) that struck last night just after midnight.

Unlike the previous ones we've had, this one went on for a very long time - for some 2-3 minutes by our rough estimation... much much longer than any previous quakes we've seen (and we've seen literally thousands in several years at this point). It was also relatively gentle (comparatively speaking): instead of any sharp jerking, shuddering, or horizontal shunting (i.e. the most destructive type of quake motion), we were instead treated to a "lost at sea in a heavy swell". The ground seemed convulse beneath our feet in wobbly waves of undulating motion. Combined with the gentle swaying of all the walls, light fittings, and other free-standing objects, the flickering lights (which threatened to blink out at any moment), and doors banging open and closed, it was quite a sickening feeling. I can only image how bad sufferers of motion sickness find travelling to be...

Reflections - Piano Improv - Mid-Winter

I was trying to free up some space on my phone over the weekend when I stumbled across the following recording I'd made of myself thumping a piano back in July (probably in the depths of trying to complete a never-ending writeup of a previous experiment). Unfortunately, the timestamp info got clobbered during the file transfer process, so I can't remember when exactly this was. Nevertheless, listening to this again, I'm quite pleased with how it turned out - it almost sounds like I actually know how to play the piano (TBH, I don't! ;)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Looking Back at 10 Years (and Counting) as a Blender Developer

Woah, I can't believe I missed posting this a few days ago (*), but Wednesday (9 November) marked 10 years since I've had commit rights as part of the core Blender development team! Yipee!

While I actually started developing Blender earlier that year (a search on BlenderArtists reveals that I finally got the codebase compiling in June 2006 for the first time, after many failed attempts), my first major contribution to the Blender codebase was my patch for the Transform Limiting Constraints that got accepted on 14 August.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Horn Theme

And now for something different... a little horn theme I came up with this morning. Probably indirectly inspired by some similar bits and pieces from a John Williams score or from one of the cues from Thomas Newman's Bridge of Spies score.

Disclaimer: Any similarity to any of the aforementioned scores or anything else is entirely coincidental.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Microsoft's Revamped "Paint"

This evening, it came to my attention that Microsoft has been working on an updated version of their classic "Paint" app, but "Windows 10-ified" and with support for basic 3D drawing/sketching...

Woah... this is an interesting move, though not completely unexpected, with the other basic 3D creation tool they bundle by default (IIRC) that's aimed more at people interested in 3D printing simple objects. Having begun my digital art journey with MsPaint in Windows 98 (I like to think I got quite skilled at drawing using a 2 button mouse on a pixel-by-pixel scale, "graduating" on to animate my first characters using MsPaint + MsAgent), it's interesting to see what the next generation of budding artists playing around with a "vanilla" PC will be able to start from.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Violin Improv - Moody/Atmospheric Tracks

Today's latest set of tracks:

It's been a while since I've had a chance to have some fun and do this (between being sick and catching up on all the work I'd had to put aside during that time). Once again, everything is just me improvising each track by overdubbing them a few times. Overall, I'm quite happy with how this set turned out - they turned out quite thematically similar (apart from the last one, which was an interesting exercise in seeing what sort of random special fx I could come up with).

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

QML Tip: Making one ShaderEffect use the output of another ShaderEffect

I've been doing quite a lot of work in QML lately for one of my research projects. Recently, I ran into some problems when trying to use ShaderEffects to actually apply them to "interesting" widgets/elements (i.e. on to anything that's not an Image and/or is more complicated than just a simple Rectangle). This post is just a quick guide to some of the key issues here (and ways around them), since it's not exactly that obvious from the documentation that this is the cause/solution, and no other hits come up about these issues...

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Useful Tip: Changing command line prompt on Windows

I just came across a useful little trick this afternoon for making the Windows command line prompt (i.e. the one you get when running cmd, which shows the current directory) much shorter  (heck, you can set it to anything you like even!), so I thought I'd just note it here so that I can look it up again should I forget in future.

prompt [new_prompt_goes_here]

That's it! Just type this little command, and it will change the prompt that gets displayed.