What It Is

The Info Monkey aims to bring you posts that are interesting, informative, intriguing, exciting, or thought provoking without regard for genre or category. Thoughtful discussion is always welcome; ranting or vitriol are not. Follow on twitter (@TheInfoMonkey), tumblr (The Info Monkey), or Facebook (Kevin Murnane) for notification of new posts. I hope you find something of interest.

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Hoisting YouTube’s Content ID system on its own petard


A couple of years ago Google introduced its Content ID system to YouTube. Copyright holders upload their content to Content ID and whenever someone uploads a video to YouTube it’s matched against this massive content database. If any segment of the video matches copyrighted content, the copyright holder can block the video from being shown or monetize the video by inserting their own ads.

Gamers went berserk when Content ID went into effect. A lot of gamers were trying to eke out a living with gaming-oriented YouTube channels. If they could attract enough viewers, they could make money from ad revenues. Most of them weren’t making very much money but it might be the difference between paying the rent or the electric bill. When Content ID went into effect a lot the people doing this lost their income to the billion dollar companies that held the copyrights on the game clips that were being shown in the videos. Worse, sleaze artists with lawyers were claiming copyright on bits of music that appeared in games or that gamers used as background when no one knew who owned the copyright. The sleazers and their lawyers took whatever a money they could get from ads and ran before the scam was discovered only to do it again with another piece of obscure content.

While Google has never come up with a fully satisfactory solution to this problem, video-game critic Jim Sterling found a way to bork the system that is both simple and elegant. You can find out how he did it in “This Critic Used YouTube’s Copyright System To Short Circuit YouTube’s Copyright System

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A brilliant inventor and fighter for equal opportunity

J.-West-1024x681-640x426_John Hopkins Univ

Credit: Johns Hopkins University

In the early 1960s James West and his colleague Gerhard Sessler invented the electret microphone while they were working together at Bell Labs. The condenser mics that were being used at the time cost hundreds of dollars; an electret mic that would produce the same flat response across a wide frequency range cost pennies to make. Needless to say, the electret mic revolutionized the industry.

While the performance of electret mics has been improved since West and Sessler introduced them in 1964, the basic design hasn’t changed. That’s very uncommon in our world of rapid technological advance. Think about how phones have changed from the telephones used in the ’60s to today’s smartphones. One or another variant of West and Sessler’s electret mic is used in all of them. The same is true for the mics used to record the music we listen to, hearing aids, baby monitors and chat bots like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s forthcoming Home.

West didn’t just co-invent the electret mic, he is widely recognized as one of the all-time great inventors and electrical engineers. He has received many awards, holds numerous patents and has been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the National Academy of Engineering. West values his scientific achievements but when asked by an interviewer what he would like his legacy to be, he focussed his attention on his unceasing and successful efforts to increase opportunity for minorities and women in scientific and technical fields.

West is an active proponent and a living example of why opening up education and opportunity to everyone benefits all of us. I’ve written a profile of him for Ars Technica. Give it a read, his story is remarkable.

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Hubble and the big blue bubble


Bubble Nebula. Credit: NASA/YouTube

NASA launched the Hubble Space Telescope 26 years ago on April 24, 1990. In celebration they decided to give us this birthday present.

The image is of the Bubble Nebula (NGC 7635). The bright star inside the blue bubble is a raging inferno that emits a solar wind of hot gases moving at 4 million miles per hour. Contact between the hot expanding gases and the cold gases in interstellar space creates the outer edge of the bubble. When oxygen is hot enough it emits the blue light seen in the image.

The bubble is seven light-years in diameter. (!!) That’s roughly 1.5 times the distance between our sun and Alpha Centauri, the star closest to our solar system. The star that is creating the bubble is 45 times as massive as the sun.

If you think the picture is amazing, check out this video.

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Deep learning, the Oculus Rift and more


Credit: Google

Recent articles for Forbes

Deep learning is a type of AI that makes use of multi-layered artificial neural networks to do amazing things. I was a graduate student when neural networks first hit the world of cognitive science in the 1980s. We were blown away. Everything stopped while we delved into these new computational architectures and figured out how they worked. We thought they were going to do extraordinary things but it didn’t quite work out that way. Now, 30 years later, many of the problems that brought those early neural networks to their knees have been solved and the extraordinary things we dreamed of are starting to happen.

What Is Deep Learning And How Is It Useful?” explains how deep learning networks work and why they are so useful. The piece also includes short descriptions of five companies that are doing interesting things with deep learning networks. Those five are cool, but there are a lot more companies making innovative use of deep learning. “Thirteen Companies That Use Deep Learning To Produce Actionable Results” presents a few of them.

If you find deep learning interesting, stay tuned. I’m in conversations with the co-founder and Chief Science Officer of a company applying state-of-the-art deep learning networks to applications in emotional AI, and with a research scientist in Grenoble who is doing very interesting things in the area of training deep learning networks. If all goes well, more articles for Forbes about deep learning will be coming.


Credit: Oculus Rift/YouTube

The Oculus Rift launched in late March and I wrote “Keeping Your Balance With An Oculus Rift” to provide some information that can keep people from falling and possibly getting hurt while using VR. The piece was adapted and updated from an article that appeared on Ars Technica. The Ars Technica piece grew out of an Info Monkey article about whether Daredevil has balance problems when he’s had too much to drink because he’s blind. The whole thing started when Daredevil’s friend Foggy asked him the  blind+drink+balance question during one of the episodes of the TV show and I wondered about the answer. Start asking questions and you never know where it’s going to end up.

Pigeon flies

Credit: DigitasLBi/YouTube

Finally, there a piece about a promotional campaign for Plume Labs, a company that gathers air pollution data and provides info via the internet and smartphone apps about daily pollution levels in cities all over the world. They built a small device that monitors pollution in the immediate environment. To draw attention to a Crowdfunder project to test the device, they outfitted a flock of trained racing pigeons with tiny backpacks containing the device and set them loose to gather local pollution data in London. If that sounds interesting, take a look at “Backpack-Wearing Pigeons Tweet About Air Pollution” to find out more.

That’s some of what’s new on Forbes. As always, you can find an up-to-date listing of my articles on my Forbes page.


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Twin Danger


Beautiful arrangements, gorgeous vocals and a tenor sax that will melt your walls. If this sounds good to you, check out Twin Danger.

The vocalist is Vanessa Bley, the daughter of the brilliant jazz pianist Paul Bley. The saxophonist is Stuart Matthewman who led the band behind Sade and co-wrote some of her most well-known tunes.

We’re in the pocket and the groove is bone deep. The night is late. Hearts pain and noir reigns. Jazz.

Stream on Spotify or Google Play Music.


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The demographics of online dating, games that respond to your emotions and more

internet love mod

Credit: kpgolfpro/Pixabay, modified by Kevin Murnane

Recent articles for Forbes

Who uses online dating services? The answer may surprise you – it turns out everyone does. Many online dating services advertise that they will find the perfect companion for you. What if they’re right about that? Find out one possible consequence in Report Shows More People Of All Ages Are Dating Online, an article about the demographics of online dating.


Sites theater crop

Credit: Online Trust Alliance/YouTube

Do you plan on using one of the “free” e-file tax services to file your income taxes? The Online Trust Alliance audited the 13 e-file tax services recommended by the IRS and found that 46% of them failed the OTA’s security tests. Find out which ones failed and why they failed in Six ‘Free’ E-File Tax Sites Recommended By The IRS Fail Security Test.


Enjoyment 2

Credit: Affectiva/YouTube

Affectiva, a spin-off from the MIT Media Lab, has built a system that can identify emotion from webcam images of a person’s face with a high degree of accuracy. They recently released an SDK that allows game developers to build games that respond to the player’s emotions. Find out how Affectiva does it and how games can use emotions so that your face is as important as your controller in Gaming: ‘Nevermind’ Reads Your Mind And Adapts To Your Emotions.



Credit: Matthew Daniels/Polygraph

If you missed the Info Monkey post about an automated, interactive infographic that captures the history of hip hop, take a look at Brilliant Data Visualization Brings The History Of Hip Hop To Life.  If you haven’t experienced Matt Daniels’ hip hop timeline you really should check it out. “Brilliant’ is an understatement.

That’s what’s new on Forbes. As always, you can find an up-to-date listing of my articles on my Forbes page.


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Computer writes political speech. Does anyone notice?

TOPIO_3 base mod

(Credit: Humanrobo/wikipedia)

Can you tell the difference between a political speech written by a computer program and one written by a speechwriter? Valentin Kassarnig at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has written a computer program that writes political speeches on demand and it does a surprisingly good job.

I’ve written an article for Forbes about Kassarnig’s program and why a computer program that can write effective political speeches might be worrisome for some people. The article includes a short video from the Washington Post that gives you the opportunity to see if you can tell the difference after listening to a speech written by the program and one written by speechwriter.

I’ve started a new gig as a regular contributor to the Technology section at Forbes. The article about political speech writing by computers is my first piece for them. I’ll post brief descriptions and links to the Forbes articles every so often here rather than fill up The Info Monkey with frequent posts about the latest Forbes piece. If you are interested in seeing what I’m doing on Forbes in a more timely manner, please follow me at Forbes.

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