A love letter to astronaut Jack Fischer’s Twitter account

A love letter to astronaut Jack Fischer’s Twitter account

NASA astronaut Jack Fischer tries out a yoga pose with the help of microgravity on the ISS. NASA

Twitter can feel like a field of land mines. You need to sidestep rude comments, tiptoe past snarky missives and cut angry trolls a wide berth.

That’s why NASA astronaut Jack Fischer’s account is a place of wonder and magic, a digital oasis. The account, @Astro2fish, is a “burrito of awesomeness smothered in awesome sauce,” to borrow one of Fischer’s phrases.

Fischer is in the midst of his first stay aboard the International Space Station. He’s excited to be there. Very, very excited. His Twitter serves as his conduit to Earth-bound space fans and his tweets jump off the screen in waves of enthusiasm and delight. He also has a steady hand with the ISS cameras.

Combine the two and you get an unending flow of space fabulousness.

Here’s one particular spark of magic:

This swirling, colorful view of a slice of our planet looks like a kaleidoscope collided with a Picasso painting. Yes, @Astro2fish, it does look like a watercolor tray. And I’m lost for a moment in a reverie at the surreal beauty of our strange and delightful home rock.

Fischer doesn’t just post photos, he posts poetry. Glaciers look like a wedding veil. Footsteps

 retreat into water. He sees a face on the side of Mount St. Helens.

And sometimes he’s just plain goofy, like when he says an aurora “slathers up the sky in awesome sauce” or he crafts an impossible tower of pudding, free of the shackles of Earth’s gravity.

I would like to think I would blurt out phrases like “space-ninja” if I ever got the chance to float around the ISS. I would play with my food, stacking cake and candy into a “Bitesize Mountain of Yumiosity.” I would get lost in a “wicked-cool, space-suit-traffic-jam” and stare in awe at the beauty of the glowing curve of the Earth below.

Fischer is the dream realized. He carries a little piece of every one of us who fantasized about going to Space Camp, ate freeze-dried “astronaut ice cream” and watched endless episodes of Star Trek. We were all kids daydreaming about the stars. Fischer doesn’t forget to pay tribute to that child inside, still full of wonder and curiosity about the world beyond our planet’s gravity.

Fischer is due back on Earth in September, but his legacy of unbridled space-joy will remain alive on Twitter as an epic outpouring of awesome sauce.

Check out some of Fischer’s greatest hits with views from both inside and outside of the ISS:

Google Pushes AI, Machine Learning to the Front

Google Pushes AI, Machine Learning to the Front

A British data watchdog has raised questions about whether it was appropriate for a healthcare trust to share data on 1.6 million patients with DeepMind Health, an artificial intelligence company owned by Google.

The trust shared the data in connection with the test phase of Streams, an app designed to diagnose acute kidney injuries. However, the sharing was performed without an appropriate legal basis, Sky News reported earlier this week, based on a letter it obtained.

The National Data Guardian at the Department of Health earlier this year sent the letter to Stephen Powis, the medical director of the Royal Free Hospital in London, which provided the patients’ records to DeepMind. The National Data Guardian safeguards the use of healthcare information in the UK.

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office also has been probing the matter, and is expected to complete its investigation soon.

One of the concerns since the launch of the Streams project has been whether the data shared with Google would be used appropriately.

“The data used to provide the app has always been strictly controlled by the Royal Free and has never been used for commercial purposes or combined with Google products, services or ads — and never will be,” DeepMind said in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by spokesperson Ruth Barnett.

DeepMind also said that it recognizes that there needs to be much more public engagement and discussion about new technology in the National Health System, and that it wants to be one of the most transparent companies working in NHS IT.

Safety-First Approach

Royal Free takes seriously the conclusions of the NDG, the hospital said in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by spokesperson Ian Lloyd. It is pleased that the NDG asked the Department of Health to look closely at the regulatory framework and guidance provided to organizations engaging in innovation.

Streams is a new technology, and there are always lessons that can be learned from pioneering work, Royal Free noted.

However, the hospital took a safety-first approach in testing Streams with real data, in order to check that the app was presenting patient information accurately and safely before being deployed in a live patient setting, it maintained.

Real patient data is routinely used in the NHS to check new systems are working properly before turning them fully live, Royal Free explained, adding that no responsible hospital would deploy a system that hadn’t been thoroughly tested.

Google’s Reputation

The controversy over Streams may have less to do with patient privacy and more to do with Google.

“If this hadn’t involved a GoFA (Google Facebook Amazon), I wonder if this would have evoked such an outcry,” observed Jessica Groopman, a principal analyst at Tractica.

“In this case, DeepMind’s affiliation with Google may have hurt it,” she told TechNewsWorld.

Although there’s no evidence of data abuse by DeepMind, the future fate of personal healthcare information is an issue that has raised concerns, Groopman noted.

“There’s a concern that once these sorts of applications — and use of these sets of big, personal data — become more commonplace, it will lead to commercial use of the data,” she said. “I’m sure that Google and DeepMind understand that anything they do is going to be hyperscrutinized through this lens of advertising revenue.”

Too Much Privacy

Health apps can have real benefits for individuals, as Streams illustrates, but they need data to do it, which can raise privacy questions.

“When you’re looking at deep learning applications, the amount of data that is required to train these models is huge,” Groopman explained. “That’s why these kinds of tensions will continue to occur.”

Patient information must be given the highest level of protection within an organization, argued Lee Kim, privacy and security director at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

“But there must be a balance between restrictions and availability of the data,” she told TechNewsWorld.

“An immense amount of progress can be made in healthcare and self-care through the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence to deliver more accessible, affordable and effective care solutions to the market,” noted Jeff Dachis, CEO of One Drop, a platform for the personal management of diabetes.

“We must always respect data privacy and the individual’s right to that privacy,” he told TechNewsWorld, “but not halt all the much needed progress in this area under the guise of data privacy.”

Google Pushes AI, Machine Learning to the Front

Google Pushes AI, Machine Learning to the Front

Addressing thousands of developers at the annual Google I/O conference on Wednesday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai outlined the company’s new strategy to transition from mobile first to artificial intelligence and machine learning. The goal is to equip the company’s line of digital assistant products and services to anticipate the needs of users, and comprehend sights and sounds in ways never before possible on a massive scale.

Google’s deep learning and computer vision capabilities have advanced dramatically, according to Pichai, and now impact everything from cloud computing to Gmail, search and mobile devices.

“We spoke last year about this important shift in computing from mobile first to AI first,” Pichai recalled. “Similarly, in the AI-first world, we’re rethinking all our products and applying AI and machine learning to solve human problems.”

Among the major new rollouts, Google Lens technology will become a part of Google Assistant and Google Photos. The technology essentially allows users to convert their smartphones into intelligent devices. They can use computer vision, for example, by pointing at a router barcode. Users can log on to a WiFi network automatically, or point the phone camera or point at a restaurant storefront and find out contextual information about its cuisine and ratings from a knowledge graph.

Following last year’s launch of Tensor Processing Units, which is custom hardware for machine learning, Pichai announced the company’s next generation of Cloud TPUs, which are optimized for training and inference.

Each Cloud TPU board has four chips inside, and each board is capable of 180 trillion floating point operations per second, he said. The cloud TPUs are designed for data centers — 64 can be stacked into one supercomputer.


TPU pod

A ‘TPU pod’ built with 64 second-generation TPUs delivers up to 11.5 petaflops of machine learning acceleration.

The Cloud TPU’s are coming to Google Compute Engine immediately.

The company plans to launch an effort to automate the design of machine learning models, using an approach called “AutoML.” The controller neural net proposes a “child” model architecture, which is trained and evaluated for particular tasks.

Google will be partnering with UC San Francisco, Stanford Medicine and University of Chicago Medicine to explore how machine learning can help advance patient care for heart failure, pneumonia and other diseases.

The company’s advances in TPU should vastly improve developer interest in AI and machine learning, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

Smarter Devices

The new Google Assistant SDK will allow third-party manufacturers to make their products — like speakers, toys or other devices — available with Assistant built-in for the upcoming holiday season, said Scott Huffman, vice president of engineering for Google Assistant .

The service also will be available for the iPhone, putting it in direct competition with Apple’s Siri.

Google Assistant will be available in multiple languages starting this summer, including French, German, Brazilian Portugese and Japanese on Android and iPhone. Italian, Spanish and Korean will be available by the end of the year.

Among its new features, it will be able to support transactions, including receipts, notifications, IDs and more.

Google Home will launch internationally in Canada, Australia, France, Germany and Japan, announced Rishi Chandra, vice president for Home products.

Effective immediately, Google Home supports proactive assistance like reminders, traffic delays and flight status changes, he said.

Over the next few months, Google will roll out more new features to Home, including hands-free calling to landlines and mobile numbers in the U.S. New entertainment services are coming to Home, like Spotify’s free service, support for SoundCloud and Deezer, integration with HBO Now, and Bluetooth support from any audio device.

In a nod to developer demand, Google announced that Kotlin will become an officially supported language on Android, the first new language added to the OS. Further, Google has entered a partnership with JetBrains to create a nonprofit foundation for Kotlin. Also, Android Studio 3.0 will be shipping with Kotlin out of the box.

The rollout of products and services was designed to establish Google’s bona fides as a company clearly driven by its AI capabilities, and the message was driven home that the company is putting its machine learning expertise front and center, adding more personalization and more contextual awareness.

Google previewed its long-awaited Android O release, making its beta available immediately. The announcement follows last week’s release of Project Treble, a new architecture that makes it easier and faster for developers to update Android devices.

Sameer Samat, vice president for Google Play, gave a preview of Android Go, a new platform for entry-level devices using less than 1 GB of memory. The service will use a set of Google apps that use less memory, storage space and mobile data, and highlight apps that are designed for entry-level device users.

Competitive Advantage

Google has a key advantage over its major competitors, said Kevin Krewell, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“Relative to Microsoft and Amazon, I believe Google is far ahead, because it has access to more data than its competition,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“In order for AI capabilities to grow, it needs to train on large data sets, and Google has access to Android mobile services, Google search, Google Voice, Google Photos, etc.,” Krewell pointed out.

“This seemed to be more of a statement of direction, one that places AI as Google’s highest priority,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“Nvidia showcased more actual advancement at their GTC event last week,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Still, Google is putting a huge amount of resources behind its AI focus and has enough of a war chest to back it up, Enderle acknowledged.

“Given we are at the very start of this race, it will likely come down to how long AI and machine learning hold Google’s attention, more than anything else,” he said. “Google has a shiny object problem in that they have historically had the attention span of a 4-year-old on sugar.”

However, unlike Google’s subpar efforts with Google+, Glass and Wave, artificial intelligence isn’t unique to the company, Enderle observed, which makes it unlikely the firm will walk away from it any time soon.

Feren OS: A Linux Desktop Game-Changer

Feren OS: A Linux Desktop Game-Changer

Feren OS is a polished and well-stocked Linux distro that comes close to being an ideal replacement for Microsoft Windows and macOS. In fact, this impressive Linux OS is a very attractive replacement for any Linux distro.

The only impediment to this assessment is dislike of the Cinnamon desktop. Feren OS does not give you any other desktop options. However, it comes with a wide assortment of configuration choices that let you tweak the look and feel into almost any customized appearance you could want.

It also is super easy to install. This makes it suitable for those migrating to Linux — or at least to this operating system. Feren OS offers a specialized software repository that is colorful and efficient to use. It has several specialized launchers to install and configure software packages with a single mouse click.


Feren OS welcome screen

The Welcome Screen displays when you load the Feren OS DVD. All new users need to know is presented in easy-to-understand guides. You can close the Welcome Screen to try out the OS in live user mode or click the install button for a fully automated installation.

Feren OS 2017.0 “Murdock” was released earlier this month. This distro is a relatively obscure Linux OS based on Linux Mint’s main edition.

Feren is a relative newcomer that first appeared in late 2015. Since then, Feren OS has acquired considerable maturity. It shows very little evidence of being a newcomer. It has its own personality, so you will not feel like you are using a Mint clone.

Even the in-house customization of the Cinnamon desktop environment gives it a considerably different atmosphere than the current Linux Mint Cinnamon iteration.

Out of the Box

Feren OS works right out of the box — but it is a big box. The download itself is a 3.6-GB ISO file. That is not a larger-than normal size, but installing it takes substantial resources.

For example, you need at least 18.2 GB of hard drive space for the installation. The OS purred along fine on 8 GB of RAM running on a test desktop computer. However, on a test laptop with 4 GB of RAM it ran noticeably slower when I opened numerous applications and did some screen grabs.

So, less-endowed hardware will be a bit of a challenge, especially if you install any of the optional proprietary drivers provided and the third-party software.

All of these goodies are partly responsible for making the Feren OS such an impressive computing platform, though. It is packed with so many bells and whistles that it needs lots of room to run.

The U.S.-based developer’s website hints at upcoming plans to package Feren OS in a third-party laptop and eventually to fork the Cinnamon desktop to a Feren-branded design. It is positioned as a transition OS from Windows 10 and includes the WINE compatibility layer for running Windows applications.

The distribution ships with the WPS productivity software along with LibreOffice. It also runs the Vivaldi browser by default — but you can use the handy Zorein Web Browser Manager tool to easily uninstall the Vivaldi browser and supplement or replace it with several other browsers.

This is very helpful for inexperienced users. It eliminates the need to find applications in the Software Center, the Synaptic Package Manager or manually, using apt-get commands in a terminal.

You have to track down your own Linux games, but PlayOnLinux and Steam are waiting for you in the menu.

I was pleased to see how the developer integrated some of the finer elements of the Zorin Linux distro. In several ways, Feren is more like Zorin Linux than Linux Mint.

Cinnamon Flavoring

Feren OS is not a retread of Zorin, either. Zorin runs the Zorin Desktop 2.0, an in-house integration of the GNOME shell. The look and feel of GNOME 3 is a far cry from the Cinnamon appearance in Feren OS.

If you are not familiar with the Cinnamon desktop, you do not have to worry about much of a learning curve. The Cinnamon desktop is easy to use, especially with all of the customized features the Feren developer added.


Feren OS Cinnamon desktop

Feren OS uses an in-house version of the Cinnamon desktop that does not require a learning curve.

Both Feren and Zorin are designed to look like classic Windows. They both resemble many other Linux distributions belonging to the Debian Linux family. Feren OS displays a handful of system icons on the desktop if you want them. It shows a fully functional taskbar or panel on the bottom of the screen.

The left side of the panel is home to the main menu button and four launch icons for the Web browser, the file manager, the Software Center and a launcher to install proprietary icons. The right end of the panel houses the notifications tray and systems tool launchers.

You can add a broad assortment of applets to that task bar. You also can choose from a library of desklets on the desktop to display various readouts, such as weather and system monitors.

The main menu is a change from the typical cascading display used in Windows and many Linux distros. It is a two-column menu display with the categories in the left column. The wider right panel lists installed software titles in rows. Depending on how many software titles are installed, this panel slides out of sight and is replaced by another set of icons with titles as you click the buttons on the bottom of the menu. It is very classy!


Feren OS main menu

In Feren OS, the main menu departs from the typical cascading display used in Windows and many Linux distros.

Bottom Line

Feren OS is a nearly flawless Linux computing platform. This distro is practically maintenance free. The updating process appears to be a modified rolling release version. System updates push to the Software Center under a separate tab for OS upgrades. This eliminates the hassle of downloading and installing new versions of the operating system several times per year.

The developers have taken the best parts of several innovative Linux distros and seamlessly integrated them into an ideal computing platform. Feren OS is very easy to use. It is attractively designed and has just enough desktop animation to make using it a tad more interesting.

Be sure to try the Theme Changer tool. It lets you alter the appearance of icons, background, window decoration and just about everything else in how Feren OSD looks on the screen.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Please email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.