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A nice to have thing in Google Translate

Recently, I was using this very useful service from Google, when something funny happen. The text of the site was in English, instead of that foreign language. Perfect. Then, something unexpected happened. But, let’s go back to the beginning…….

A city and a language

The town of Zadar is in Croatia. The official website is in the local language. no surprise here. In the middle of the page sit three option lists (commonly called drop boxes). Their content seems mysterious:

zadar-hr-list-1

While the content of the list remains unknown to me, the choice is available, so why not? I pick up the first element in the list. The words tip linje, could they mean line type ? Maybe. After having made the choice, the second list changes with what looks like a selection of names:

zadar-hr-list-2

Now, the third list offers  some options:

zadar-hr-list-3

All this seems to be some sort of guidance. Too pity I don’t know the language. But, hey, there is a great tool that can translate  the text into English. You know what I mean. Yes, Google, come to help!

Magic ….

Quickly, I typed the address of the site and the magic happened. The unknown language (Croatian) changed to English. Too good to be true. The images were still in the local language, but this would be too complex a problem to solve, even for the giant of the giants. Anyway, see what I’m looking for: three lists of choices. Now, the content of the first one is clear:

zadar-en-list-1

Quickly, I pick up the first option. Then comes the surprise:

zadar-en-list-2

 

The second list didn’t change at all. This is because the text on the left changed and most likely, the connection between the two of them broke. No a real stunner, but still, far from what I wanted to get.

… is unexplained science

It seems that the translation worked even at the lowest of the levels, i.e. the internal navigation system of the page. The translator performed very well. Too well to be true!  What I needed here was to have the lists of options with English text where applicable, keep the original boxes hidden, but functioning and operate the hidden levers as needed. I am confident this will be included in one of the future versions of  Google Translate.

At last ….

Then I saw a pair of small buttons, on the top menu line:

zadar-hr-en-versions

After having clicked on the right button, magic happened. The page changed into English. The option lists  continued to function.

What next

I believe the next version of the translation engines (there is more than one) should take into account the small details presented here. There are several possibilities:

  • adapt to the type of the content (e.g. take care of the list boxes and the navigation system)
  • detect the language change buttons and either present directly the  correct version of the page
  • or separate the navigation system of the page from the text content and reassemble accordingly

I am sure it is only a matter of time until the translation systems will  work flawlessly. until then, pay attention to the small details, like the buttons at the top of the page.

The missing link

You can check for yourself here.

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Could there be a third bubble ?

2023-machine-learning-bubble

2001

Many remember that for 3 years,  starting with 1998 and until the burst of the dot com bubble, many new startups have been created on the basis of having just a something.com name. They were cashing in money from the banks without much thought. Of course, there were some checks, but still, they were minimal.

The bigger the promise of such a company, the more the flow of dollars that were put into into it. After all, internet was the next big thing and almost twenty years later it still is. And in most of the cases, the majority of the investors didn’t understand how most of those startups were to generate revenue.

Magic equation: 1998 + 3 = 2001 (3 = 11 in binary)

2008

A more recent event with consequences in the present happened in the late 2000s. The sub-primes were the next big thing. Nobody could explain how it worked, but this didn’t prevent massive investments, much bigger than in 2001.

The aftermath saw the demise of several respected financial institutions and the birth of regulation supposed to prevent the bubble to burst again. Until now, the changes made held on. So far, so good.

Magic equation: 2001+ 7 = 2008 (7 = 111 in binary)

2023

This scenario could never happen. After all, software is safer than ever, or it should be. A new very promising type of investment has appeared: the machine learning startups. As Steve Jobs said, it works like magic. Arthur Clarke, the author of the 2001 Odyssey, has written decades ago that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Does it ring any bells ?

No one understands machine learning. It creates optimized mathematical structures (matrices) that find the best fit candidate among a bunch of pretenders. The mystery happens during what is called the training phase. The problem is that the aforementioned phase takes dozens if not hundreds of thousands of cycles, during which the understandable concepts convert into something that cannot be explained, but works in most of the cases. I write here most  because there are some exceptions to the rule and those exceptions may be the key to the mystery.

Magic equation: 2008+ 15 = 2023 (15 = 1111 in binary)

The equations

The three equations presented here are just educated guesses. As a rule of thumb, the time mankind needs to raise again after a fall is more than twice the time it needed in order to go down. After every bubble, the time to the next one is roughly the double. Of course, this could be just a coincidence, but what if 2023 is the time of the next bubble.

My idea is to have this article written long before that date. This will be enough time for Google to index it and if that event happens, well, it might lead to the theory of bubbles. If hopefully the bubble doesn’t happen, than the alternate scenario stays just an unverified hypothesis. Until then, there are four years.

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Lack of substitutes

Today, if someone wants to find information, can follow several paths:

  • google for it (the most natural way)
  • look on twitter / facebook
  • use yahoo or bing

Of course, there are alternatives, but these are the most used tools. The first tool is the reigning champion. It is hard to avoid using it. So easy has it become that it seems unnatural to do otherwise. Yet, it would be unwise to put all the eggs in one basket.

What is the 1 in a million information can be found only by using that unheard of search engine, or web site ? It could be possible. Still, 99,99999% of the time,  Google can find absolutely everything. Or at least it seems to be able to.

Let’s face it! Today, there are few if any alternatives. Most of the time, the best way is the simplest one. So, yeah, there is a shortage of substitutes. It does not mean someone in a garage  is not working on it, but that person is not me. By theway, I don’t have a garage.

More to come later ….

 

 

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A weakness in Google’s strength

Note: this is a series. You can start here.

google-weakness-question

In a previous article I started to analyze the search engine markets. The article ended with a promise to show what I believe is the greatest weakness of Google search. Don’t understand me wrong. The internet giant does a splendid job when it comes to guess what people want to find.

google-search-for.png

The mindreading game works well for standard content. Most of the time, it works perfectly. However, there is a type of search that does not work, at least not for now. This is what I consider a weakness in the strength of the  Palo Alto company: not being able to create original content during the query.

search-engine-expected-answer.png

For example, let’s say someone wants to query about something that is not in any article indexed by Google, at least not in its entirety. Taken as individual parts, the query’s search terms could lead to some results, but not to what the user is looking for.

One could hypotetically imagine a scenario where the search engine is building the results out of thin air. After all, people researching during a PhD are able to succeed at  the task.

phd-create-original-content

The root of the problem comes, I believe from something that is specific to the Valley culture: most of the companies have very young teams. After all, this is the basic prerequisite of a startup: break the barriers of age and have a divergent thinking. But divergent thinking from people in their 20s, while good for something innovative, it lacks maturity to a certain level. It is the paradox. One cannot be young and have a lot of experience, even if today, many entrepreneurs begin their profesional life before the university. Experience is something that somone begets in time at some critical moments.

a-i-some-sort-of-symbol

I don’t know if A.I. development  in the next 5-10 years will answer to the question of maturity level. One thing is sure: search engines still have a lot of space to conquer and from a certain point of view, they are still immature. After all, the whole SEO wars should never have happened if the systems were fully developed.

More to come in a later article ….

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Google search and barriers to entry

Note: this is part of a series about Five Forces and Google search. And yes, red and green is a peculiar color combination.

google-market-share.png

Current  market division

As of early 2019, the biggest players are Google, Bing and Yahoo. Of course, the market leader is crushing the competition. Still, I believe by mid 2020s, there will be a significant change and a new leader will appear, a new player. But until, let’s give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.

The red part is Google. The green sector is the sum of other players (Bing, Yahoo, etc). Yes, it is a monopolistic market. But there is more to that.

google-barriers-to-entry

Barrier to entry

After canibalizing on Yahoo’s market share in the early 2000s, Google errected a very high fence. Still, one must ask what is the market in which Google is playing. If you believe Google is the no.1  search engine in all the information markets, I have to disagree. There are three types of market and the Valley giant is playing only in one of them. It is the biggest, yes, but that could change in the future.

The markets

It is my belief that there are at least three types of information markets:

  • the old and public market
  • the very fresh and unknown market
  • the hidden market
  • the robots.txt market

Obviously, an information broker like Google has  specialized in analyzing the first type of market. So far, it seems it bests anyone on it.

As for the second type of market, the information is too new to go up in the natural referencing system. so, in a way, it is relevant, yet ignored. This is  due to the major weakness of Google and I will explain it later.

The third market is not accessible to any of the top 3  search engines. The root cause is becaue of the cost. Either one has to pay for the information, or the data is physically protected and never available to the general audience.

A particular category of markets are those controlled by the robots.txt files. Normally, a search engine is not supposed to look there. I write normally, because no one knows how polite and respectful a search engine is.

google-last-word

One last word

I do believe that the three markets where Google has no control might develop in a spectacular way. Do you see an weakness in the strategy of the internet giant ? If not, wait for my next article.

Come back later for more about the 5F+1 table on google search…. Yes, there are weaknesses and threats.

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Five Forces: Google search

Google’s golden elephant: advertising + information provider. Yes, I know, they are strong in many other areas, but this article will focus on the search engine, the historical icon of the internet.

5f-google-magnifying-glass

Google search provides information to billions (!) of people.  Don’t have time to go to the library ? Google it.  Look for something ? Google knows.  So good has become the engine that people use it as a second brain. Some say that the global IQ of the planet went down because of Google. Really ? Let’s have a closer look.

5f-google-hammer-nail

Hammer, fingers, nail

It is a mistake to blame the tool. It’s like letting the hammer fall on the finger instead of the nail. Google search is a tool, a very sofisticated workhorse, but that is all. You like it or not, it is there, ready to be used. And most of the time it is used. By most, I mean something like 99%.

5f-google-blueprints-car

Drawing made with the mouse. Arghh!

Now, a search engine is as good as the information it provides.  Looking for the blueprints of the latest Tesla car  (Model Y) ? No, they are not  public and no search engine can provide you with that information. This is wher the limits of the search engine are.

5F-google-fresh-old.png

The search engine has to make trade-offs and decide which 10 to 20 websites are the most relevant. They are the first results to be shown. In general, fresh news become yesterday’s news in a matter of minutes. However, if we leave out the buz about the Kardashians and Nadal, the news become more stable.

This will be continued in a future article ….

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API Days

The university campus  of Paris has been the host of  the 2018 edition of the API Days in Paris. The event gathered some big names of the IT and telecom, as well as some smaller players. A non exhaustive list includes:

  • Red Hat
  • IBM
  • Orange
  • Kong
  • Parasoft

With today’s diversity of hardware and software products and services, the lack of standardization is  one of the bigger issues faced by customers. The good news is that  some companies can solve this problem. Yes, this is about APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). In other words, it is about standardized use of products and services.

A company with a deep enterprise-oriented culture, IBM provides a uniform API for virtually everything. While I am not sure how fast a 3 people team dedicated to the task can cope with ever changing systems as well as with new entrants, there is a high degree of confidence from Big Blue. I suspect there is more than the person I spoke with told me. Maybe it is Watson or something similar. One thing seemed sure: IBM can connect you in a standard way with virtually any database (both SQL and NoSQL). What I liked most was the official position regarding data protection. Without express demand from the customer, IBM stores no data. With the GDPR coming into effect next May, IBM may have positioned as a trusty partner and provider.

A telco with a long history, Orange has a strong position in the IoT market, for both industrial and home market. While the information is still scarce for the end-user,  with no demo portal, the offer has improved significantly. I mean, you need to contact Orange  and/or even pay  first  before seing the IoT portal in action.  From what I saw, the offer includes data communication, specific IoT hardware selling and API provinding. This is a wise move from a company which used to sell only data plans. The strongest part is about API. You can buy non standard IoT hardware from a Chinese company, use data plans from some telco and have Orange translate that non standard information into a conventional API.   Unlike IBM, there was no clear position regarding customer’s data. The meta API could keep intermediary data in caches. however, the user can choose to delete the data.

A less known company, Kong is aggregating APIs from micro services ( REST, Swagger, etc.) into an uniform interface. The solution is platform agnostic and integrates transparently at many levels.

One of the Linux veterans, RedHat has a long history of providing premium services to companies. For example, the company helped Amadeus during its own journey toward the cloud. RedHat is less about API and more about helping reach a specific goal.

Offering an API is good, making it secure is better. Parasoft plays in a different league and it has earned points in the field of software testing. The offer is quite big and covers a good number of languags and and standards.

I tried to write quickly about the event. There were many more companies present and introducing them all would take a much longer article. However, one thing is sure: API standardization is key to the future of IT.  With the advent of IoT, robotics and AI/Machine Learnng, I expect even more players to enter the arena of the API.

 

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IoT powered over the air

According to UWINLOC, a French, Toulouse-based company, it is possible to install battery-less beacons that capture energy from a radio field. At the core of this technology lays a basic principle: very small devices require extremely low power.

The beacons harvest radio energy through miniaturized antennae. Once the internal energy storage system goes beyond a specific level dubbed as “charged”, the devices start to emit a “ping”. It is this ping that enables the location in a 3D space.  Several carefully-placed receivers locate the position of the beacon.

The small devices are packaged as tags that can be attached to any object. I see great potential in such a technology. It is a bit scary, but it might open the door to free energy. All it takes is to balance the power requirements of a device with its capacity of harvesting energy from the electromagnetic/radio field.

 

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Build an simple Arduino-based wait time display for the bus stop

The real case

The styled bus stops J.C.Decaux has put in Paris have displays that indicate how many minutes one has to wait for the next bus. I like the simple matrix display put atop a 5m pole. The size of the LED matrix and their brightness allow a good read from more than 10m for the average person.

sketch-paris-abrbus-pole-wait-time

Unfortunately, there is only one matrix and as such, it is visible only from one side. While it is good for a MVP, the design has a big flaw: people coming from the opposite direction cannot see the information. The worst case is when someone sits across the street.  The bus could come from around the corner and go in just one minute. So much for the wait time display.

sketch-paris-abrbus-pole-reverse-angle

The idea of having a small matrix placed high enough to avoid destruction of property is quite good. The only bad thing is that I need to be near the bus stop in order to get the information. And this suggested the following project: a matrix display placed on my door, so I can see how minutes I have before the next bus arrives.

The schematics

matrix-wait-bus-time_bb

The circuit uses two components:

  1. a WeMos D1 R2 board with the the excellent ESP8266 chip
  2. a 8×8 LED display driven by the MAX7219 chip

And now to the project

The display

The MAX7219 and the 8×8 LED display have a bright red color, easy to spot from a few meters away. Put on the front door (on the inside, of course), it is visible from a few meters away.

The excellent Arduino LedControl library is easy to use. It has only one drawback: no support for displaying figures, especially two figures, as the waiting time can go up to 60 minutes. Most of the existing stuff on the internet does not accommodate so much information in such a small space.

8x8-LED-figures-0123

That is no problem. One piece of paper, a pencil and time. Not much. Ten minutes later, the display problem is solved.  The design of the font for the figures is simple, yet sufficient. Enough to show one or two digits.

8x8-LED-double-figures

And just in case, I’ve  added several text messages, like Err for error and WF for WiFi.

8x8-LED-Err-WiFi

Updating the wait time display

A waiting time display must update itself on a regular basis. The precision is down to minutes, so it feels right to refresh it every minute.  There is no secret recipe:  one needs a network connection.

While today we have many IoT options like LoRA, ZigBee, SigFox and the likes of them, for sake of simplicity, I used a regular WiFi connection. Thus the presence of the WeMos D1 board, featuring an ESP8266 WiFi enabled chip. It is a low-cost solution to the problem.

The wait time provider

For this project, I use the excellent API from Pierre Grimaud. It is easy to use. The only caveat is the necessity to connect in https instead of http, which is not the default role  of ESP8266. Fortunately, there are alternatives.  The whole project is on GitHub. Feel free to use it and don’t judge too harsh the quality of the code. I did it in a rush. Don’t forget to replace the placeholder values with real stuff.

Flashing the ESP8266

I used the Arduino editor. It is the best thing to use when playing with Arduino devices.

A word of caution

The LED display draws a certain amount of current. The USB port of the computer has its limits. During the flash, I disconnected the LED matrix from the board. Maybe this step it is not necessary, but better safe than sorry.

One more thing

Be careful, the real LED matrix has a slightly different order for the pins than the image above. The order is the following: Vcc,GND,DIN,CS,CLK. Make sure you connect pin D6 to CLK, respectively pin D5 to CS.

 

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Kerlink – financial statements

financial-statements-ren-on-blue

Before jumping into the water

I have started the analysis of the publicly available financial reports of Kerlink, the IoT player. I tried to use here a color scheme as closed to the official web page as possible. Before going  further, I would like to remark the choice of colors. Finance requires a strong  focus on figures. It is not the first time I see this red text on blue background. From my experience, sooner or later, someone will see that it is a bit hard to read the text.