Edward Willett

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Google Translate AI reminds me of GigaText, a blast from Saskatchewan’s past

This story, "Google Translate AI invents its own language to translate with" caught my eye for an odd reason. Long-time Saskatchewan residents will recognize the word "GigaText." As I've noted elsewhere, I'm working on a book about the Progressive Conservative government of Grant Devine, which held power in Saskatchewan from 1982 to 1991. One of the boondoggles that government mistakenly invested in was a company called GigaText, which claimed it could use computers to translate Saskatchewan laws into French. The government had to comply with a ruling by the Supreme Court that Section 221 of the Northwest Territories Act contained French-language guarantees that were still valid in Saskatchewan, and thus had to be either respected or repealed. As a result, The ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 0:15, December 3rd, 2016 under Blog | Comment now »

My future city: I dabble in public prognostication

Later this morning I’m expecting a phone call from a reporter at the Regina Leader Post, who wants my science-fiction-writer take on the future of the city, ca. 2035. Of course the city has its own rather boring (well, from an SF writer’s perspective) plan for the futuristic city of Regina, which is full of lots of nice buzzwords like “sustainable” and “accessible,” exactly what you’d expect, but as First World War German Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Younger famously said (only, of course, in German), “no plan survives contact with the enemy”—and in this case the “enemy” is rapid ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 9:25, December 11th, 2012 under Blog | Comment now »

The SpeechJammer

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/04/The-SpeechJammer.mp3[/podcast] As a writer, freedom of speech is near and dear to my heart. It’s one of the basic principles of the democratic form of government. And yet it seems to be constantly under attack, for one simple reason: it’s easy to say you believe in free speech when people are saying what you agree with. It’s a lot harder when they start saying things you vehemently disagree with. “He/she/they shouldn’t be allowed to say that!” is perhaps a natural human response, but it’s still one that must be overcome if free speech is to flourish. Which is why I find a recent technological development rather disturbing. Imagine if, instead of shouting down ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 16:02, April 24th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Segmented sleep

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/02/Segmented-Sleep.mp3[/podcast] It’s happened to all of us at one time or another: we wake up in the middle of the night, have trouble going back to sleep, start worrying about the fact we’re having trouble going back to sleep, start worrying about the fact we’re worrying about the fact we’re having trouble going back to sleep...and then the alarm goes off and we spend the rest of the day yawning. Well, a February 22 news article by Stephanie Hegarty of the BBC World Service claims that both science and history suggest we should quit worrying and embrace our midnight wakefulness: that in fact, sleeping without waking for eight hours is an ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 14:36, February 24th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Vehicle-to-vehicle communication

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/01/Communicating-Cars.mp3[/podcast] Do you talk to your car? I know I do (perhaps not as much as I, um, “talk” to other drivers, but some). I think I inherited the trait from my mother: all of the cars of my childhood, I knew from her, were named “Suzy.” These days, your car may even listen to you, if you have a voice-activated music system or phone. But generally, cars don’t pay much attention to what you say to them. It could be that you just don’t have anything to say they’re very interested in. Perhaps what cars would really enjoy is conversation with others of their kind...and it may not be too long ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 16:06, January 27th, 2012 under automobiles, cars, Columns, Ford, Science Columns | Comment now »

Out with the old, in with the new: digital TV

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2011/08/Analog-and-Digital-TV.mp3[/podcast] Technology changes, new ways of doing things driving out the old. Take digital television. In fact, you’ll have to: by August 31, over-the-air television stations in most major Canadian cities are being required to stop broadcasting in analog and start broadcasting in digital. Merriam-Webster defines analog as “of, relating to, or being a mechanism in which data is represented by continuously variable physical quantities.” Digital, on the other hand, is defined as, “of or relating to the fingers or toes.” Wait a second, that can’t be right...oh, here we go: “of, relating to, or being data in the form of especially binary digits.” A phonograph record is analog, the continuous, wriggly groove representing the ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 14:33, August 12th, 2011 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

D-Dalus: Dawn of the flying car?

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2011/06/Dawn-of-the-Flying-Cars.mp3[/podcast] “Hey, dude, where’s my flying car?” is a cry every science fiction writer has heard—and every science fiction reader has uttered—since the future supposedly arrived on January 1, 2001, and we found ourselves still stuck to the ground, rolling along on rubber tires. The problem has been that we really only have a few ways to get ourselves into the air, and none of them really lend themselves well to flying cars. But a new technology presented at the Paris Air Show proffers the possibility of, not only flying cars, but more stable, easy-to-fly and mechanically robust aircraft for a plethora of purposes: the first “disruptive technology”—technology that changes everything and ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 11:26, June 22nd, 2011 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | 2 Comments »

Measurement

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2009/11/Measurement.mp3[/podcast] “Inch-worm, inch-worm, measuring the marigolds...” Despite that line from a popular song, the fact is, inch-worms don’t measure anything. Neither to cockroaches, bulldogs, llamas or horned toads...because measurement is the process of counting how much of a sensory signal exists, and so far as we know, no other animals can count. Simply counting things wouldn’t itself count for much if we couldn’t communicate, though. Through language, we’re able to tell others what we have measured, which enables us to describe things we’ve seen, contract with others for trade or exchange, and control various processes. Just think about all the things you rely on measurement for. Your clothes were measured to fit your body. Your food is stored in a refrigerator whose temperature is ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 15:22, November 27th, 2009 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

The thrill of the chase

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2009/09/The-Thrill-of-the-Chase.mp3[/podcast] I had a hard time getting started on this column. See, as I was calling up the items I’d starred in Google Reader as possible topics, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to do a quick search for new reviews of my latest novel. And then I thought, well, as long as I’m online, maybe I’ll just skim through some blogs...and maybe check Facebook...and... Well, you get the idea. Fact is, you’re lucky to be getting this column at all. Which is ironic, because my jumping-off point is an article from Slate, written by Emily Yoffe, titled “Seeking: How the brain hard-wires us to love Google, Twitter, and texting. And why that’s dangerous.” There’s no doubt that the seeking out of information ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 16:16, September 9th, 2009 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

The first (OK, actually the first TWO) sentence(s) I wrote today…

"He will be able to answer questions," the Healer said. "Whether he will answer them is beyond my control." Words today: 1,440 Total thus far: 16,272 A bit of an annoyance today: I've been writing with my Freedom Universal Keyboard 2 (a fold-up Bluetooth keyboard) on my new Blackberry Storm. All well and good, but today, for some reason, it asked me for a password for the keyboard. Darned if I could remember what it was, and since I was already sitting somewhere that wasn't home, I didn't have ready access to support material. I struggled for an hour or so and never managed to make it connect. Once I got home, I soon figured out what I was supposed to type in (0000--nothing ...

Posted by Lee Arthur Chane at 21:09, June 17th, 2009 under Blog | Comment now »