Can IBM beat Ken Jennings & Brad Rutter on JEOPARDY?

Tonight’s the night, and it lasts all week. OK, this is not really music related, but it’s very cool!

Here’s what the Washington Post had to say:

With IBM’s Watson on ‘Jeopardy!,’ how trivial is trivia?

“Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek and former champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter discuss the challenge of taking on IBM supercomputer “Watson.”

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 13, 2011

a 2006 “Jeopardy!” contestant, on the fate of trivia buffs in a Google world

“Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek isn’t afraid he’ll be replaced by a machine. “It’s a possibility,” Trebek told me recently, “but it won’t happen for a few years.” After all, the machine would require “infinite patience, great wisdom, a sense of humor, which is hard to build into a computer. And tenderness when dealing with contestants.”

But perhaps he should worry. Trebek has made a good living testing his contestants’ knowledge for almost three decades, but an upcoming match against the IBM-designed Watson supercomputer might put the whole realm of trivia in, well, jeopardy.

This coming week, Watson will compete on “Jeopardy!” against two of the quiz show’s greatest champions. For almost four years, researchers at IBM programmed this computer, the size of 10 refrigerators, to answer questions – or, rather, question answers in classic “Jeopardy!” format. They scanned a universe of knowledge into its capacious 15 trillion-byte memory: great literature, mathematical and scientific formulas, the name of every pope and Best Actress Oscar winner. To call this compendium of information encyclopedic would do it a disservice. It’s practically Wikipedic – but without the looming threat of inaccuracy.

And Watson is a formidible adversary. Humanity stores an increasingly large percentage of its knowledge in computers or on the Web. Whether humans win or lose this week’s match, IBM is forcing us to ask: What is the point of trivia?

These days, Trivia Buff has been supplanted by iPhone Guy. Once, when you needed knowledge, you opened a book or phoned a friend. Now, you Google it. The capital of Delaware or the length of Humphrey Bogart’s inseam is just a few clicks away.

Once, the sudden, burning urge for new information was the fuel of trivia enthusiasts. “I kinda get so wrapped up in facts and stuff,” said Brad Rutter, a “Jeopardy!” Tournament of Champions winner who is one of the humans who battles Watson in this week’s pre-taped showcase. “If I’m wondering about something, it bothers me until I go find out the answer.”

But now that it’s so easy to find the answer, why carry it around in your brain? Rote memorization is a thing of the past. State capitals? Please. The dictionary? You have an iPhone. Libraries? You have a Kindle. With a keystroke, you can answer any question, and it’s no fun to be a know-it-all when everyone else is, too.

“Trivia geeks are not the public resource they used to be,” admitted Ken Jennings, the 74-game “Jeopardy!” champion who will be representing humanity alongside Rutter. “Now that Watson can play ‘Jeopardy!’ at human levels, has my one real talent been stolen away?”

If we can find information instantly on any subject, we are also less likely to retain any of it. It’s the hook-up culture applied to facts – wham, bam, thank you Bing. Why bother learning anything specific? Have GPS and Google made trivia a trivial pursuit?

And there’s Watson to contend with, too. “It did make me appreciate the human brain,” Jennings noted. “The protein and salt and whatever . . . that little bit of tissue could hang in there with a billion-dollar supercomputer.”

There’s still a value to knowing things, Jennings contends, not just knowing where to look them up. “Even when machines are doing more of our thinking and remembering for us, it’ll be more useful to have the wealth of information,” he said. “To make informed decisions about anything in life, you need to have knowledge. If you need a Google search, you’re still at a disadvantage.”

This is true. Facts, when we have them, shape our thinking and fill the contours of our arguments. There’s only so far you can go in any line of inquiry before some essential knowledge – what Jennings calls “the roughage of facts” – becomes indispensable. And then there is the difference between knowledge and wisdom, a gap that so far Watson has been unable to bridge.

“I don’t think we want to outsource our thinking to any machine,” Jennings said. “I don’t remember phone numbers anymore because my cellphone does, can’t figure out what time of day it is by looking at the sun, but thinking and recall and analysis – these things are too central.”

Yes, machines save us effort. Dangerous, backbreaking tasks are now performed by robots. Algorithms predict and feed our musical tastes. Computers fly planes and Predator drones. But there is a point at which convenience ends and laziness begins. We’re freeing up a great deal of mental space – for what? To think about Justin Bieber? No wonder we seem worried the machines might take over.

Rutter, at least, isn’t sweating. ” ‘Jeopardy!’ will still have humans for a long time to come,” he said. “Until we have implants in our brains.”

Alexandra Petri writes for The Washington Post’s editorial page.

iPad … Some questions about syncing and more

Recently, Beth Jahn, on the Music K-8 Mailing List, asked a few questions about a new iPad that may be helpful to all of our readers. Never feel that any question is silly. We all run into new issues that need solutions. She writes:

Can someone please give me a little help? Please don’t laugh at me because I’ve made some stupid mistakes. I’m usually fairly tech savvy, but I don’t know what I’ve done here. I’m so clueless about the syncing thing. I started playing with the iPad right away and even bought a couple of apps. Then I plugged it into my computer and it started syncing ALL my iTunes to the
iPad. Well, that would use up every bit of space I have on it so I somehow managed to stop it and I clicked on something that said restore to previous state (I really don’t remember the wording) or something like that which seemed like something I wanted to do because I don’t want my music on it. Well, I shouldn’t have done that because it wiped out the apps I bought
(which was only about $4 worth, but still). Anyway, I have not synced it since then and I’ve added a lot of apps. I tried plugging it in again the other day, but it says something like it is not authorized to sync with that computer. I don’t know what to do. I want to be able to back up the apps I’ve downloaded (some purchased), but it doesn’t seem to like my school computer now. Thoughts?

Syncing can be a little tricky, especially when you have more than one computer or more than on mobile device, such as iPads, iPod Touch, or iPhone. Here are important things to remember:

Each mobile device can only be synced with one computer. This is a little confusing, because you can authorize your iTunes account for several computers and mobile devices, but you should choose just one of them to be your base computer for syncing.

Teachers using computers at home and at school have to decide what works best for them. I would also suggest that if you bought the iPad and the school bought the school computer, you should sync at home. Once the apps and music are on your iPad, you can hook  it up anywhere, you just can’t transfer music to an unauthorized computer.

You don’t have to automatically load all music from you iTunes account onto your iPad. Once your iPad is hooked up to your base computer, go to iTunes and touch the iPad icon under devices. Then go to the music tab on the top menu. There you are given the options under “Sync Music” of “Entire Library” or “Selected Playlists, Genres, Albums, and Artists.” There you can cherry pick favorite albums and more.

Regardless of what things you want on there all the time, I am a big time of Playlists, especially timely one. I always have on marked “Current Projects,” so you, as a teacher, might want one that lets you place music for “Current Lessons” or “Music We Are Performing.” That way you can constantly change the contents of that playlist with very little prep time. Remember: when you delete something from a playlist, it does not remove it from your iTunes library.

One last thought on MUSIC K-8 music. While music purchased on iTunes can only be used on your authorized computers, music on MUSIC K-8 CDs (or music downloaded from can be added to any computer tht is just used by you, at home and at school.

On a somewhat related note: We have a few iPads in our school and I just had a fun thought. What if I borrowed all the iPads in the building and worked them into the Mallet Madness rotation. The kids would love it! Some could use the free unpitched percussion apps. I was even thinking about using the Bebot (robot synthesizer) for one because I just figured out it can be set to pentatonic.

Beth Jahn
K-6 Music Teacher
Bert Raney Elementary School
Granite Falls, MN

I love the idea of using multiple iPads for the kids to, using Mallet Madness, any number of Orff tunes, or even our Boomwhacker tunes from MUSIC K-8 or collections. As long as the apps are free, you don’t have to worry about syncing or authorization, as each iPad can have it with no worry. Once you use the paid apps, you can only use it on multiple iPads linked with one computer account.

There are many free apps, mostly of unpitched percussion, but there is one nice free app to consider called Percussive. It comes in both free and paid versions, the free one giving you a nice, multi-octave xylophone, with settings for low and high octaves as well as soft and hard mallets. The paid version adds several more instruments and costs $1.99.

One last suggestion – If you are just combining several iPads, the internal speakers are fine, but if you are combining one or a few iPads with other instruments, you should consider adding a simple external amplified speaker for the iPad so that it can cut through the larger sound. While you can spend a lot on speakers made just for the iPad, there are many simple speakers designed to connect with the headphone connector  that can be had for $20 or less.

Don’t be shy… ask anything you’d like to know and we’ll try to help.

High quality recordings for your school groups for $150 or less

You can spend a small fortune on recording with your computer. As a matter of fact, ProTools™, which we use to make Plank Road Publishing recordings, will cost you many thousands of dollars to record with much sophistication, and it takes training and auxiliary hardware to do it right.

Use your computer, your iPhone, your iPod Touch, or your iPad. If you want to record your singers or your recorder ensemble live and come out with a pretty decent recording, here are a few simple steps:

Start by getting a decent USB microphone. We recommend one of the neat Blue mics. We like the specs of the Blue Yeti, the top of the line. Not only does it give you high quality sound, but the pattern of the microphone is switchable to four settings: stereo, cardioid, bi-directional, and omnidirectional. (For most of your recordings, you will probably use one of the first two settings.) (For full specs, see my first comment after the post. Not everyone will want the details.)

Blue Yeti USB mic

It can connect to your computer with (Mac or Windows PC) with a USB cord. You can also connect it to your iPhone and iPod Touch. If you want to connect it to your iPad, you will need the Apple Camera Connection Kit, which lets you connect via USB. The Blue Yeti retails for $149.95  as of this writing, though we have seen in in several places for under $100. If you are less concerned with top audio quality, Blue makes several mics that fit directly on your iPhone or iPod Touch, great for having a friend record your performance from the audience.

Software – Now that you have sound brought into your computer, you will need to capture it and control it to some extent. For your computer there are many pieces of software: Garage Band and Logic for Macs, and Sony’s ACID Music Studio. Those are just a few. But if you want to use your iPhone or iPad, Blue makes a FREE app called Blue FiRe. Even though it is free, it gets the job done. It has three quality settings, with each level eating up more megabytes as the quality improves. Save the music in WAV, AIFF, or CAF formats. AIFF is generally what is used for CDs, and can be converted to MP3s in many outside programs, including iTunes.

Blue FiRe iPhone app

How are you recording? What more would you like to know? This is a simple, elegant set-up that, if the mike was up a bit off the ground, and a sufficient way from your group, can provide you with CD quality sound.

So… let us know what you are using with your groups. And let us know if you would like more detailed posts, on such things as mic placement for various groups. Keep in mind that there are entire books written on this, and mixable, multi-microphone recordings are a whole other matter. These we know well. Every song you hear on MUSIC K-8 comes from multiple layered session for rhythm, winds, strings, percussion, and voices… all of them multi-miked. The resulting tracks, often as many as 48, are then mixed in week-long sessions. One such “Mix Week” just finished for MUSIC K-8, 21/5.

And was this post too technical? Would a simple glossary help on such things file types or mic patterns?

Let us know.

Added after original post… A Diagram of the Four Patterns, courtesy of the manufacturer. It’s a nice primer on mic patterns.

Blue Yeti Recording Modes - assume that your performers would be to the left of it as shown... that's the front of the microphone.

Microphone and performance

Power Required/Consumption: 5V 150mA
Sample Rate: 48 kHz
Bit Rate: 16bit

Capsules: 3 Blue-proprietary 14mm condenser capsules
Polar Patterns: Cardioid, Bidirectional, Omnidirectional, Stereo
Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz
Sensitivity: 4.5mV/Pa (1 kHz)
Max SPL: 120dB (THD: 0.5% 1kHz)

Headphone Amplifier
Impedance: >16 ohms
Power Output (RMS): 130 mW
THD: 0.009%
Frequency Response: 15 Hz – 22 kHz
Signal to Noise: 100dB

Dimensions (extended in stand): 4.72” (12cm) x
4.92”(12.5cm) x 11.61”(29.5cm)
Weight (microphone): 1.2 lbs (.55 kg)
Weight (stand): 2.2 lbs (1 kg)
System Requirements
PC: Windows 7, Windows Vista, XP Home Edition
or XP Professional
USB 1.1/2.0; 64 MB RAM (minimum)
Macintosh: Mac OSX ( 10.4.11 or higher )
USB 1.1/2.0
64 MB RAM (minimum)

Welcome to our new music education tech blog!

My trusty computer assistant, Oscar, hard at work, buying his favorite food: duck! (For more of Oscar's antics, see Paul's Facebook page.)

I want to welcome everyone to this new blog… the software of which I am still learning. (Insert “old dog/new trick” joke here.) I will be posting as the spirit moves me or as new technology topics seem to need discussion.

Many of my early articles will be intended to invite discussion. If you have a topic you would like to bat around with other teachers, just send me a message through the Contact area, above.

Be part of the discussion! To comment on any post, just do our simple registration. All it asks for is your e-mail and a username of your choosing. As is our policy on all of our features, we will never sell your e-mail nor share it with anyone else.

Paul Jennings

Thinking of an iPad for your classroom?

iPads are cool. iPads are fun. And iPads are amazing tools for personal entertainment and productivity. But are they worthwhile tools for you to use in your classroom?

As one who has worked with an iPad since their first week of release and who had high expectations, I will hope to give you a balanced look at the iPad and its potential for the future.

Media… iPad at its best! – The iPad is at its best when consuming media. Pictures, videos, and the other media around you look GREAT on the iPad. It is so immediate and crisp, and since you are probably holding it right in front of you, you are immersed in it. Add a nice set of headphones and you are in the middle of everything.

Books and magazines take on a whole different life, and if they have been enhanced for the iPad, they are even better. Many magazines are doing special monthly issues for the iPad that include added content that works great on it. Videos, pop-up graphics, and hyperlinks to web pages are just a few of the features you can find there. Wired has done a great job of it.

There’s an app for that… for better or worse – For those of you new to iPads, iPhones and other iThings, an “app” is an application that lets the iPad (and other devices) do a specific thing. There are tens of thousands, soon to be hundreds of thousands, of apps. They can let you do almost anything that applications on computers do, and then some, and they usually do so at a much lower price. Scrabble® for your computer is $19.95, but just 99¢ for iPhone, and its even more enjoyable cousin Words With Friends costs the same. (Okay, I admit it, I’m addicted.)

I could list favorite apps for the rest of the story, but I will limit it to a few that teachers are talking about on the Music K-8 Mailing List:

  • JamPad – Play the keyboard (FREE)
  • BaDaBing – Play drum set or bongos (FREE)
  • Percussive – Play the five different mallet keyboards ($1.99). A free version lets you play just the xylophone… but it’s free!
  • Beatwave – Create sounds, rhythms, and even record and save the result. Much creative fun! (FREE)
  • Pianist Pro – Perhaps the best of the iPad keyboard apps I’ve used. Comes with a dozen sounds and many features. (I sometimes arrange with it.) ($9.99)

These are just a few of the apps of interest. In the Comments area, please share and review some of your favorites.

One caution: Apple always points out that those zillions of apps for the iPhone work just fine on your iPad. Well, they do, but they are very unimpressive there. If an iPad version is available, odds are it’s a much better choice, and will cause you to have to buy separate apps for the two different products. But it’s worth it.

Constant Change – The iPad was released in April 2010, and, as of this writing, Apple has sold more than 8 million of them. First released with Wi-Fi only, it was expanded to Wi-Fi plus 3G, and will soon be available with connectivity through Verizon. Assume that like any article on technology, this one will be out-of-date by the time you read it.

With each new improvement and each new app and accessory, the iPad can do more. Just this week, Apple released iOS 4.2 which brings many changes including the ability to print directly from the iPad, multitasking, a neat new capability called AirPlay, and upgraded capabilities for many of the core Apple apps.

Can I use the iPad as my primary computer? – If you are thinking of making it your one and only computing device, we can’t recommend it for most people. At least at this time, you will have some problems doing all you want to. Remember, you need iTunes on your computer to sync with and backup your iPad data. And if you are planning on doing a lot of writing, the external keyboard is recommended. At the very least, get a stand that allows you to lay the iPad in both horizontal and vertical positions for typing on the virtual keyboard. It’s money well spent.

Connecting to other hardware – For now, if you want to print directly from it, you will have to have some of the newer printers designed to be accessed via Wi-Fi. Also, many of you use PowerPoint® presentations, using a projector or through your interactive whiteboard or similar tool. Don’t assume that you can automatically hook up to these or even a monitor. I recommend that if you absolutely must have it connect to your current technology, be sure it will work before you buy. Don’t assume that because you have the option of a VGA connection, these pieces of hardware will automatically work as you want them to.

In conclusion – If you are on a tight budget, the iPad is probably still a luxury. But if you want one for your own use and/or have a larger school budget, the iPad can provide endless possibilities. It is especially nice for enrichment moments with smaller groups or individual teaching. It can capture your students’ imaginations in ways that most technology can’t. And do watch our web site for future news on the iPad and other technology for your music classroom.

Paul Jennings