Tuesday 9 May, 2023

Sumer is Icumen

Cow Parsley, seen on a fenland walk on Sunday.

I have a soft spot for the plant, because it’s a harbinger of good things to come. Its scientific name is Anthriscus sylvestris, but according to the Woodland Trust it’s also known as Queen Anne’s lace, mother die, fairy lace, lady’s lace and hedge parsley.

The headline above is in Middle English and I guess means “Summer is coming in”. It is, according to Kate Price, “a traditional English medieval round, and possibly the oldest such example of counterpoint in existence.” (It’s estimated to date from 1260). Here it is being sung by the Hilliard ensemble.

Quote of the Day

”A sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion.”

  • C.S. Lewis

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Joseph Haydn | Piano Sonata nº 59 in E flat, Hob. XVI:49 | Alfred Brendel


I try to pick short pieces for this part of the blog, and this is a performance of the entire sonata which runs to 21 minutes so I was about to search for something else. But then I started to listen (and watch), and wound up mesmerised by Brendel’s consummate mastery. Literally couldn’t stop listening.

But if you’re pressed for time, the first movement starts at 0:14; the second at 8:02; and the last one at 17:27.

Long Read of the Day

‘A race it might be impossible to stop’: how worried should we be about AI?

My OpEd in last Sunday’s Observer on the significance of Geoff Hinton stepping down from Google.

Last Monday an eminent, elderly British scientist lobbed a grenade into the febrile anthill of researchers and corporations currently obsessed with artificial intelligence or AI (aka, for the most part, a technology called machine learning). The scientist was Geoffrey Hinton, and the bombshell was the news that he was leaving Google, where he had been doing great work on machine learning for the last 10 years, because he wanted to be free to express his fears about where the technology he had played a seminal role in founding was heading.

To say that this was big news would be an epic understatement. The tech industry is a huge, excitable beast that is occasionally prone to outbreaks of “irrational exuberance”, ie madness. One recent bout of it involved cryptocurrencies and a vision of the future of the internet called “Web3”, which an astute young blogger and critic, Molly White, memorably describes as “an enormous grift that’s pouring lighter fluid on our already smoldering planet”.

We are currently in the grip of another outbreak of exuberance triggered by “Generative AI” – chatbots, large language models (LLMs) and other exotic artefacts enabled by massive deployment of machine learning – which the industry now regards as the future for which it is busily tooling up….

Do read the whole thing

My commonplace booklet

Seth Godin’s new search engine


An AI-powered search engine. Neat.

Seth’s blog is one of the wonders of the online world. When, decades ago, I first started keeping a blog, I thought of it as a kind of private lab notebook. And then I had what James Joyce might call an epiphany: if I put my ‘notebook’ on the Web I could have Google search it — which transformed its usefulness (to me, anyway). But Google search has its limitations, as we know. So the logical thing to do is use some tool like ChatGPT to search it. Which seems to be what Seth has done.

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