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

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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?

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(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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Jerry Lawson: A video game pioneer

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Jerry Lawson was a largely self-taught electrical engineer and video game pioneer who was almost forgotten during his lifetime. His father was a longshoreman who loved to read about science; his mother was uncompromising in her insistence that her son get a good education.

Lawson moved from the east coast to what is now known as Silicon Valley in the late 1960s and took a job with Fairchild Semiconductor. While he was at Fairchild he oversaw the development of the Fairchild Channel F gaming console. This was the first console with it’s own microchip, the first console with enough processing power to allow the player to play against a programmed AI, and the first console that was able to play games stored on a removable cartridge. The Channel F was also the first gaming console that allowed players to pause the game and adjust game parameters with a button on the controller.

Lawson was a maverick who went his own way and in doing so, introduced features to console gaming that are still with us today. He was creative, talented, interesting and he had some great stories to tell.

I’ve written a profile of Jerry Lawson for Ars Technica. Check it out if you’d like to learn more about a guy that should have been recognized and honored more widely than he was.

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Baseball: Engaging the audience – Part 2

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For the past 13 years Major League Baseball (MLB) has seen record growth, reaching revenues in the neighborhood of $9.5 billion in 2015. Nevertheless, every year “Take me out to the ballgame” is sung with an accompaniment of hand wringing over baseball’s perceived failure to attract a younger audience.

People have seriously proposed that shaving 10 minutes off the average game will pull in younger viewers. I argued that speeding up the game is not the answer in a previous article. While time and effort is given to correcting inconsequential weaknesses like speed of play, one of the core strengths that makes baseball so attractive is ignored. You want to attract people to baseball? Play to your strengths.

baseball brainBaseball is often called the thinking person’s game because it combines infinitely nuanced game play with enough time for the knowledgeable fan to engage with the strategies and tactics that are being played out on the field. The key word here is “knowledgeable”. The audience has to understand what’s happening on the field if they are going to engage with the game at a level that turns casual viewers into passionate fans. You want to attract fans? Help them engage with the game.

In Part 1 of this series I offered suggestions about how to engage the audience by bringing them information that enriches their understanding of the game. Having the information you need is only part of the story. The other part is being able to do something enjoyable and entertaining with that information. How can you do that?

Give the audience baseball cards.

Wait! Come back!

I’m not talking about your grandfather’s bubble gum and cardboard cards. It’s the 21st century – I’m talking about digital baseball cards. I’m also not talking about the digital cards currently being produced by card companies that are appealing to nostalgia for the old cardboard cards. I’m talking about a card that would be produced by MLB and designed to be used in ways that will increase the audience’s engagement with the game.

Designing digital baseball cards

Like the old-school cardboard cards, digital baseball cards have the player’s picture on the front and his stats on the back. The difference between digital cards and their forebears lies in what you can do with both the picture and the stats.

harper 4harper 1Let’s start with how to engage fans with the picture. Card sets can be designed with a default picture (or gif) of each player and one or two alternates. When people order a set they can choose which picture they want. They get the default picture if they don’t make a choice for a particular player.

Another option might be to offer two or three pictures of each player before the season starts. Everyone who preorders a card set can vote for the picture they prefer. The picture with the most votes is the one that will appear on the card when the set is ready for download.

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Throughout the season MLB chooses a player of the week in both the National and American Leagues. Each week a new picture of the chosen player could be made available. Card holders could then choose whether they wanted the original or the new picture to appear on their copy of the player’s card. The same thing could be done with the players of the month, the players who make the All-Star Team, or the rosters of the teams that make the playoffs. A new picture for each player could be added when a team advances to the next round in the postseason. Which player will end the season with the most pictures in their card set?

The picture on the card is eye candy; the stats on the back are the meat. Baseball statistics have undergone a revolution with the widespread use of advanced analytics. The stats on the back of the card could be offered in two packages, a set of traditional stats or a set of sabermetric stats. Better yet, offer a full menu of both traditional and advanced stats and let the card owner choose which individual stats she wants on her cards.

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Like the picture on the front, the stats on the back can be changed throughout the season. Every major league park is equipped with PITCHf/x and Statcast that gather data and make it available in real time. If it’s possible to do it, the stats on the cards could be updated in real time using the Pitchf/x and Statcast data. Failing that, stats could be updated once a day after all of the day’s games have been played. As we will see, this is the feature that makes digital cards a key that unlocks fan engagement.

What might these cards cost? I have no doubt MLB can think of many ways to monetize digital cards. However, if they focus on the cards as a way to foster engagement with baseball, MLB might want to consider giving the cards away for free. The gain in revenue from increased fan interest and TV viewership may well offset the cost of producing the cards, maintaining the update system, and whatever MLB may have gained from sales.

Cards with pictures and stats that can be changed throughout the season are cool, but if all you are going to do is look at the cards they aren’t going to do much to create engagement with the game. You want to use the cards as well as look at them. This is where the fun really begins, and this is why keeping the stats on the cards updated is important.

Using digital baseball cards

There are many ways digital cards can be used to enhance people’s engagement with the game. Here are several suggestions.

Fantasy baseball

UNCLESAMProvide a set of cards that is designed for fantasy baseball leagues. At the beginning of the season the league commissioner gets one full set of cards and the fantasy league players download an app that lets them share cards with the commissioner. Trades between players go through the commissioner. MLB provides the commissioner with new cards as needed throughout the season when a player who was not in the set at the beginning of the season is brought up from the minors. The stats on the cards update daily.

Player vs player baseball matches

MLB designs (or licenses) a social video game that allows two players to control MLB teams and compete against each other using consoles, PCs, or mobile platforms. The MLB players on each team are represented with digital cards that update every day. Many game variants are possible.

  • Pitcher vs batter – The defensive player chooses pitch type and location; the offensive player chooses pitch type, location, and whether or not to swing. The outcome of each pitch is determined by the players choices and the batter and pitcher’s current stats for pitch type and location. An easier version that only asks players to call type of pitch could be used to introduce people to the game. An advanced version could constrain pitchers to throw types of pitches to specific locations in roughly the same proportion they do in real life. For example, a pitcher that throws 65% fastballs must throw 65% +/- 5% fastballs during the game. Special card decks are provided that have the stats used in the game on the back and the stats are updated every day.
  • ned yostManager vs manager – Players make managerial decisions while the pitcher vs batter confrontation is handled by the computer. On offense managers can make the usual calls (e.g., bunt, steal, hit and run, etc.) and can also call for changes in the batter’s approach depending on the count and the game situation. For example, the manager can call for a power hitter to change to a more conservative collins harveyput-the-ball-in-play approach when there’s a runner in scoring position and the batter is behind in the count. On defense managers can position players for typical situations (e.g., 3rd baseman guards the line, 1st baseman holds the runner, the infield is brought in, etc.), can employ a variety of defensive shifts, and can call for changes in pitching strategy depending on pitch count and game situation. The card decks for manager vs manager games come with an additional manager card that gives the relevant team stats for all of the calls the manager can make. MLB player and manager stats are updated daily.
  • Skill matches – Players compete against each other using the same team. Players can decide starting lineups and substitutions throughout the game with the outcome depending mainly on player skill. Matches can be played in either pitcher vs batter or manager vs manager mode. An interesting variant requires each team to use the same pitcher and the same lineup.
  • people-spend-3-hours-playing-gamesGame day matches – Two players watch a live game and play the pitcher vs batter game in real time. Offense calls pitch type, location and whether or not to swing; defense calls pitch type and location. Points are awarded based on whether the game player’s choices match what happens in the game. For example, both players get points if they call fastball and the pitcher throws a fastball. If the pitcher’s player calls for a fastball in on the hands, the batter’s player calls for a fastball on the lower outside corner, and the real pitcher throws in on the hands, the pitcher’s player gets additional points and the batter’s player does not. On offense, players get maximum points if they correctly call pitch type and location, and the real batter gets a hit or a walk. On defense, players get maximum points if they correctly call pitch type and location, and the real batter swings and misses or gets a called strike. Players must make their calls in real time. If you think baseball is too slow, try playing a game-day match and realize you are considering only a small proportion of what the real pitchers and batters have to deal with between pitches.
  • baseball-cards1Historical card sets – Card sets can be made up of great players, great years, or great teams from the past. Stats for great player sets are the player’s career stats; great year stats are for particularly great seasons by individual players; great team sets have each player’s stats for a particular year. The historical sets can be used in any of the game variants. The great player set could include an average player card for every position so fans could pit teams against each other that aren’t composed entirely of superstars. Individual historical cards can be inserted into the lineups of modern teams. Do the Pirates beat the Cubs in last year’s one-game divisional playoff if they can pitch Sandy Koufax against Jake Arrieta? Play it out and see what happens.

MLB could produce different card sets for each of these game variants and – with the exception of the historical sets – the sets could be locked so that cards from one game can’t be used in another. However, a single process should be able to update the stats for the players in all of the card sets.  Once the difficult job of designing and building enjoyable games is finished, keeping the games going with daily stats updates should be relatively easy.

If you build it, they will come

Digital baseball cards are only one way to facilitate audience engagement with the game. The solution to attracting a wider audience to baseball doesn’t lie in finding the right app, it lies in identifying the game’s strengths and coming up with creative ways to focus audience engagement on those strengths. Baseball is a deep game that features a pace of play that allows the audience to engage with its tactical and strategic complexity. Bring the knowledge to the audience that allows them to understand the game, and then give them enjoyable ways to use that knowledge to engage with the game.

If you build it, they will come.

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Twenty-six years of hip-hop in a brilliant infographic

 

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If all you saw was the image above along with the title – Billboard’s “Hot Rap Songs” Chart (1989-2015) – you’d have no idea what’s waiting at the other end of the link. Hit it and you’ll find that Matthew Daniels at Polygraph has created what may be the best infographic about music ever.

Even if you don’t like hip-hop, you should check this out. It’s that good.

The heart of the infographic is a side scrolling chart that automatically rolls from 1989 to 2015. The chart logs songs that peaked in the top 5 each week and follows their positions in the top 10 as long as they stayed on Billboard’s chart.

As the chart scrolls through each week you listen to a sample from the song that was #1 for the week. The longer the song stayed at #1, the more of it you hear. The end result is a mix of of #1 hip-hop hits covering 26 years. The only break in the music (and the only weakness of the infographic) is that there’s no sound for some songs.

A slider on the bottom of the chart lets you start the roll anywhere you like. Mouseing over the little artist circles that are moving up and down as the artist’s hits move up and down the chart brings up the artist’s entry on last.fm to the left of the chart.  Click on the artist circle and you can listen to the song instead of the constantly changing mix of #1 songs.

If you know this music, the chart’s a trip down memory lane that could easily eat up the rest of your day. If you aren’t familiar with hip-hop, it’s hard to imagine a better introduction. And if your ears are so closed that you won’t even listen to hip-hop, don’t despair. Daniels says he’s working on doing the same thing for other musical genres.

Why are you still reading this? Click the link.

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The toughest bass player on the planet

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On February 4th, 1945 Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin sat down together for the first day of the Yalta Conference where they divided up Germany and reconfigured Eastern Europe at the end of World War 2. The whole world was watching.

On that same day, Jane Little made her debut playing bass with the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra (ASO). She had turned 16 two days before. Far fewer people were watching.

She did a good job and the ASO asked her back the next year – and the year after that, and the year after that, and the year . . .

. . . 71 years later, on February 4th, 2016, Germany was reunited, FDR, Churchill and Stalin had been dead for 50 years or more, and the Soviet Union no longer existed. But Ms. Little was still in the bassist’s chair at the ASO setting the record for the longest tenure for a musician playing with a single orchestra.

Ms. Little is well named. She weighs 98 pounds and her bass is a foot taller than she is. Have you ever tried to play a concert bass? It is physically demanding. The steel strings are thick and heavy, and the space between notes is large. It takes great hand strength and endurance to play the instrument at all, let alone play with a symphony orchestra where the bass has to compete with 70 or more fellow musicians.

Ms. Little is not only little, she’s not well. She has cancer – multiple myeloma – and is undergoing chemotherapy. Have you ever undergone chemotherapy? It kicks your ass. She is also in daily pain from a cracked vertebra which she suffered in a fall last August. To manage the pain she takes steroid pills before she performs.

The bass is often called the foundation of a band. The ASO has been grounded on a rock for 71 years.

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