Thursday, June 30, 2016

Deep Learning

By Kristy McCaffrey

How does your email filter out spam? How does Facebook automatically tag a photo you just uploaded? What powers the crystal-clear voice of Apple’s Siri feature?

The answer is deep learning, a branch of machine learning based on a set of algorithms that attempt to model high-level abstractions in data by using a deep graph with multiple processing layers, composed of multiple linear and non-linear transformations. Said another way—deep learning uses multiple layers of “neural networks” to solve problems.

For example, if a deep learning algorithm was used to evaluate a photograph, the artificial neurons—each consisting of constrained mathematical functions that are designed to recognize patterns—might look for a configuration of pixels that resembles an eye, while another would search for the shape of a lip. These neurons would transfer this information to a higher level of neurons, which would evaluate if the image contained a face. An even higher level would determine if the face was that of a human or some other animal.

The “deep” concept comes from the number of layers; if a higher level determines that the lower levels were wrong, the information is passed back to the lower levels where they learn to better process the data.

Deep learning can be applied to many areas: it can be used on audio files to differentiate between a British accent or a Southern drawl; it can be used to determine whether a review on Amazon is positive or negative; Paypal used it to reduce its fraud rate by 10 percent; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to use it to automate the process of tracking an endangered whale species; medical researchers have developed a tool that might be able to perfectly predict the onset of a seizure in epileptic patients. 

According to Dr. Gregory Piatetsky-Shapiro, an expert on deep learning and machine intelligence, “Deep learning is probably the most important technical development since the invention of the Web in the 1990’s.”

Last year, a computer program utilizing deep learning taught itself to play Space Invaders and 48 other video games with no human intervention. The program was designed to track pixels on the screen and was given the goal of aiming for a high score. Then it was left to simply play on its own. When starting a new game, it would repeatedly lose, but within an hour it had made enough connections between cause and effect to devise a strategy to win.

Although neural networks have been popular since the 1960’s, the technology has recently exploded, partly due to the fact that so many people are willing to share their photos on Facebook, thereby offering researchers the opportunity to test and “train” their tools to improve through practice and learning.

And while many worry that this technology will lead to the artificial intelligence takeover so often depicted in apocalyptic films, most experts believe these fears are unfounded. A human toddler can identify an unknown animal after only a few impressions of a photo, but it takes deep learning machines billions of images to recognize the same. And while that computer program did master Space Invaders, it has yet to conquer the complexity of Pac-Man.

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Works Cited
Flaherty, Joseph. “Inside Our Computers’ Brains.” Sky Magazine. April 2016.
Wikipedia. <>.

Stay in touch with Kristy

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Reading Recommendations

All Reviews by Kristy McCaffrey

(Note: I've included an Amazon link for each book but many are also available on other platforms such as Nook, iBooks and Kobo, as well as print.)

Jennifer Foehner Wells

For 60 years, NASA has been watching a derelict alien spacecraft drifting in the asteroid belt near Mars. When a mission is finally ready to make first contact, Dr. Jane Holloway—a linguist—is recruited to join the team of pilots, engineers and a doctor. When they finally reach the ship, labeled the Target, they find it deserted except for an entity that can communicate telepathically. Jane is the only one open to such contact and the crew soon becomes suspicious of her mental health. Dr. Alan Bergen, however, does believe her and attempts to aid her in understanding what happened to the race of beings on the spacecraft that were lost in a catastrophic incident. This is a fast-paced story filled with just enough science to satisfy the diehard sci-fi fans alongside a compelling romance between Jane and Bergen. I couldn’t put it down!

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The Comanchero's Bride
Kaye Spencer

Elizabeth White, heiress to a sizable fortune, is living in the wilds of Texas. Her family hopes to make her miserable enough to return home and marry the man they’ve chosen. Instead, Elizabeth finds a life with purpose and also meets the man of her heart, an ex-outlaw named Mingo Valderas. They soon become separated and she finds herself in Denver society with Grayson Beal, the detestable man she was supposed to wed. He won’t let her go—her family ties, social standing, and money will all but ensure his bid for the presidency. When Elizabeth flees Colorado to be with Mingo, they must make their way to Mexico staying as hidden as possible. This requires traversing ancient trails frequented by the Comanchero, men who live on the outside of the law. And Mingo is just such a man.

This tale has a strong heroine with a good heart and a hero determined to redeem himself for the woman he loves. Their love story will leave you longing for a happy ending. Beal is a richly-drawn and despicable villain, the historical details are superb, and the writing flawless. Ms. Spencer has outdone herself once again. If you’re looking for a gritty western with romance and valor, don’t miss this one!

* * * *

Tempt Fortune
Hebby Roman

In this historical romance, Angelina Herrera has fled Cuba to Key West in the hopes of forging an independent life free of a man’s dictates. Her plan is to build a cigar factory and support herself. Financial circumstances, however, force her into marriage with the enigmatic Alejandro Estava. Carrying scars from a fire that killed his wife and child, he is unrecognizable to Angelina and hides the fact that they had known one another many years prior. That he has long loved her only fuels his efforts to protect her from an alliance with an unscrupulous man. As a counterpoint to their romance, the story also showcases Angelina’s new friend, Destiny, and her courtship with Nathan Rodgers, a Navy captain.

Ms. Roman has written a lush and evocative tale, weaving in Cuban culture and history along with the early days of Key West society. Both heroes are swoon-worthy, the heroines are spunky and stubborn, and the love scenes steamy. It’s everything a romance should be and more. A wonderful read!

Amazon - Tempt Fortune

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Hot Work in Fry Pan Gulch
Jacquie Rogers

If you enjoy westerns and humor, then this is the book for you. Honey Beaulieu is full of grit, determination and sass—I guarantee you’ll fall in love with her. Growing up in a whorehouse owned by her mama, Honey is determined to not pursue the same line of work. Fortunately, her pa makes a living hunting bounties, and Honey shows a particular knack for it. She lands a job as Fry Pan Gulch’s deputy marshal, much to the chagrin of the men around her. You’ll cheer her on as she sets out to prove she has what it takes. When she meets handsome U.S. deputy marshal Sam Lancaster, a stubborn mule and a pickle barrel will have you laughing out loud. Ms. Rogers is one of the best western writers out there today and this book proves her talent once again. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Amazon - Hot Work in Fry Pan Gulch

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Home Fires
Kirsten Lynn

With the Civil War ended, Cord Matthews heads to Montana Territory to begin anew. Believing his one and only true love is dead, he starts over but is never free from the heartbreak. Unbeknownst to him, Olivia Bartlett has survived, and through a twist of fate they find one another. While they both are determined to pick up their relationship from where it ended, they experience the usual growing pains of any couple learning to love and live together. When an unresolved issue from their past finds them, they must fight to see it through.

This tale is richly imagined, and Cord and Olivia are both headstrong and desperate for one another. Ms. Lynn has crafted a gripping romance on the western frontier. I highly recommend.

* * * *

No Greater Glory
Cindy Nord

This wonderful Civil War romance will have you turning the pages deep into the night. Widowed plantation owner Emaline McDaniels must contend with the sudden appearance of a bevy of Union soldiers determined to use her property as a stopover as they move south. Colonel Reece Cutteridge—commanding and resolute—finds himself falling under Emaline’s spell despite every effort otherwise. Against the backdrop of heartbreaking atrocities, they come together in a blaze of passion and need. Ms. Nord handles the details of the time period with ease, but it’s the tension and love between Emaline and Reece that will leave the most lasting impression. I truly enjoyed this book.

* * * *

The 5th Wave
Rick Yancey

After seeing the movie, I was hooked so I picked up the second book to learn what happens to all these great characters. After one chapter, however, I knew I’d need to read the first book. And I’m so glad I did! The adage is true here—the book is far better than the movie—but I’m stunned at the depth in the novel that was eliminated in translating it to the screen. So do yourself a favor and read this. I found the characters of Cassie, Evan and Ben engaging and compelling as they navigate the world after an alien invasion. With each successive wave, the enemy eliminates more and more humans, and the question, of course, is: What will be the 5th wave? The answer is quite clever and horrifying at the same time. I couldn't put this one down.

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Walking the Gobi: A 1,600-Mile Trek Across A Desert Of Hope And Despair
Helen Thayer

Ms. Thayer and her husband walked across the Gobi Desert, which sits on the border of Mongolia and China. This is all the more audacious because they’re both in their 60’s and 70’s. They plan and practice for the trek and are by no means unexperienced at a trip like this. But the unexpected does arise and Thayer shares these incidents with candor. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, feeling as if I’d made the journey with them. I’ll always think of their two camels—Tom and Jerry—with fondness.

* * * *

Look What The Wind Blew In
Ann Charles

In this romantic mystery, Dr. Angelica Garcia is searching ancient Mayan ruins looking for evidence to vindicate her mother’s reputation, who is deceased. By her side is her eagle-eyed father and a dedicated crew. When photojournalist Quint Parker arrives under the pretense of writing a story about the dig site, Angelica finds herself both suspicious and reluctantly attracted to the handsome reporter. Throw in an ex-husband trying to win her back and a Mayan curse creating paranoia and fear among her workers, and Angelica has her hands full. This story has it all—suspense, steamy romance, and an intriguing mystery involving the Maya culture. I couldn’t put it down! Another winner by Ann Charles.
* * * *

Race To Tibet
Sophie Schiller

In 1889, French explorer Gabriel Bonvalot set out to reach Tibet. At that time, no European had ever set foot in Lhasa. He was determined to enter the well-guarded city and meet the Dalai Lama himself. To gain the funds to go, he’s forced to bring along Prince Henri d’OrlĂ©ans, a pretender to the French throne and a scandalous playboy. Joining them in a large caravan is Camille Dancourt, a young French woman searching for her husband who disappeared in Tibet and was never heard from again.

Ms. Schiller has taken historical fact and woven an exciting adventure story around it. Traversing through Russia and the Tian Shan and Atlyn Tagh Mountains, the expedition is plagued by harsh weather, altitude sickness, hostile Tibetans, and Chinese Mandarins who control all travel within the region. While Bonvalot’s ideals are lofty, he’s forced into thievery and violence to survive. It’s a harrowing journey, and there’s no doubt these early explorers were hardy souls. Prince Henri and Camille are not, but watching them grow and adapt throughout the trek adds a counterpoint to Bonvalot. There is also a side story involving a Buddhist princess that offers insight into the culture of Tibet. Today, we take for granted that westerners may enter the Himalaya region easily, but without men like Bonvalot this might never have come to be. It’s a fascinating tale of determination chasing after mythology. I won’t spoil the story by telling you whether Bonvalot reaches his destination or not, but rather I encourage you to immerse yourself in this thrilling adventure into another land and time.

* * * *

Father of the Bride
Marcy Waldenville

A wonderfully romantic read about wedding planner Kate Whitney and her ex-husband’s lawyer, Alex Blessing. When Kate must plan Amanda Blessing’s wedding—Alex’s daughter—she’s thrown together with a man she had learned to despise for taking everything from her in her divorce. To Alex’s confusion, he can’t remember Kate although he’s certain they’ve met. Their growing attraction will have you turning the pages until the end. A heartwarming love story with just the right amount of sexy.

* * * *

My Mozart
Juliet Waldron

This is the first book I’ve read about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and it held me captivated from the start. Told from the perspective of Nanina Gottlieb, who first meets Mozart as a young girl, the story follows her childhood adoration of the musical genius to her passionate love for a man who will forever break her heart. Mozart is 18 years her senior, married, a womanizer and an alcoholic. But all these facts fall to the wayside to Gottlieb’s worship of the man. Rich with historic detail of 18th century Vienna and intricate aspects of Mozart’s famous compositions, it’s easy to fall under the same spell as Gottlieb. She knows loving Mozart will ultimately ruin her but she can’t stop her feelings. An accomplished singer, dancer and actress, she makes a living often reserved for unreputable women. Mozart dies when she is 17 and soon after she discovers she is pregnant. She comes to learn of at least two other illegitimate children Mozart had left behind. That the famous maestro didn’t love her exclusively causes deep pain, but until the end of her life she cannot hate him. It’s a heartbreaking tale. While certain parts of the story are no doubt fiction, it’s a testament to Waldron that there are no stumbling blocks in the presentation. An amazing book by a talented author.
* * * *

Alaina Claiborne: A British Agent Novel
MK McClintock

Alaina Claiborne is a strong-willed and likeable heroine, growing up in the English countryside with her aunt and uncle after witnessing the murder of her parents and a family friend when she was young. The details of that event, however, have been buried in her mind. When she meets her new neighbor, Tristan Sheffield, the attraction is immediate. Tristan is the British Agent of the title and is in search of the man who not only killed his father but also possibly Alaina’s parents as well. As the mystery unfolds in London and Virginia, Alaina’s memory slowly surfaces. She and Tristan marry under the pretense of protecting her but it soon becomes a true relationship.

Alaina Claiborne is filled with rich historical detail, a handsome and dashing hero, additional dashing fellow agents who will no doubt appear in future books, and a heroine with a sense of humor (she’s kidnapped no less than three times). An engaging tale filled with romance and intrigue!

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A Dip In The Ocean: Rowing Solo Across The Indian
Sarah Outen

A wonderful account of Sarah’s solo trek to row the Indian Ocean. She succeeded, becoming the first woman to do so, along with being the youngest. Her prose is immediate and invites you to be right along with her, from the decision to do it in the first place to the deep grief over the sudden loss of her father before the journey begins. You’ll feel as if you rowed the entire thing with her. I appreciated her focus on details—what her daily routine was like, how much she loved seeing the albatrosses that passed by, and her inability to ration her chocolate. You can’t help but admire her tenacity.