Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What Would Siri Say Calendar

For the holidays, my daughter got me a desktop calendar.

Other than the somewhat antiquated mode of a desktop calendar (which I find I still have this cool Star Wars calendar from 2006 hanging on my wall that I have almost never looked at), I was really looking forward to this one.  I did enjoy the gift, but it's one of those things you wouldn't know unless you open it up -- or read about it.

Many may be familiar with Siri - Apple's female assistant app that is built in to iPhones and iPod Touches (is it on iPad yet?).  Siri is not merely a voice command app (find this, text that), but it is a more advanced assistant that you can interact with, have conversations with - and is somewhat witty.  Of course, because of this design, many have picked on it for speed (Google's search is faster - because that's all it does is search).  It does of course have limitations - after all, it is not Human, and does not really understand what you ask of it.  However, it does quite well, and comes in extremely handy in a limited set of situations.

Enter the calendar.  I'm sure, due to the popularity of the iPhone, and Siri, that this publisher (whoever they are, they are not identified on the calendar) thought they could make a quick buck by putting it out there.  Unfortunately, it seems that the questions they put on the calendar are not vetted properly.  They seem to be one of three types: one (the rare type) - show off a feature of Siri, two (slightly less rare) evokes a witty response, and three (very common) - show where Siri falls short and has to resort to a web search or an incorrect answer.

For example, "Which side of the plate does the fork go" is not a Wolfram search, and so is not integrated into Siri.  It gives a web search - big whoop, that's most of the things they have.  Also, "Why are Solo cups red" turns into a misunderstanding of red to mean "read" - OK, to some degree it's great to point out limitations in the product.  However, misunderstanding these stupid homophones in the English language is tough for people, let alone computers.  That's totally stupid.

A few gems: "Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street," and especially "Who's going to win the Superbowl" on the day after the game.

All in all, I was sorely disappointed - what I was expecting would be things that get Siri to give a witty response ("Take me to your leader."  "I thought you were my leader."), but instead it seemed to be a daily stab at what Siri can't do, or can't do well.

Thanks, Rachel, it's the thought that counts.  I still do enjoy trying it out.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Conversations with Siri #7

How much faster are today's computers from the 1970's?

My daughter read me from a fun science fact book the other night.  In it, it stated that the original personal computers' processors were 4.77 Megahertz, and that today's computers were 500 times faster than that.  I was totally shocked - that the 500 number was so low!  I knew in my gut that there was no way it could be that small of a difference, you know how technology advances.  Besides, those old machines were way too slow to do anything considered normal today.

There are many factors that go into an overall performance result.  If we just look at the CPU (Central Processing Unit, or primary processor chip), the first measurement is the number of times (or cycles) that the processor "fetches" - that is, it gets its instructions from memory to run.  This cycle speed is measured in number per second, or Hertz.  Kilohertz is 1000 per second, Mega million, and Giga billion, really simple.  True, today's processors run, for example, at 2.6 GHz, and at first cut 2600 MHz/4.77 MHz=545.  If that were the only factor, that would be accurate.

However, those old Intel and Motorola processors ran at 8 bits wide, while modern ones are 64 bits wide.  That is 8 x the throughput per cycle.

But wait - today's processors are hyperthreaded with multiple cores.  That is, they run as if there are multiple processors, because they are so fast that they outpace the ability of the system to feed data to them, so they are split up into cores that run in parallel.  An Intel Core i5 processor has 4 cores, thus is running 4 of those.  So we have 545 x 8 x 4 = 17,440 times as fast as that little 8086 Intel running in a single core at 8 bits per cycle. [EDIT: Corrected number of cores and calculations]

Still, I have this gut feeling that I am leaving out some other multipliers.  Sure, all the supporting systems (memory bus, disk bus, etc.) have to be upgraded to keep up with the processors.  But I think it is actually perhaps one or two more multipliers here, so it could be an even larger factor.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tuesday, February 5, 2013