Productive Meetings – Microsoft Takes us Closer to Actualizing an Oxymoron

Meetings have traditionally been met with mixed reactions from participants, particularly in organizational settings. The main gripe being that they are often inefficient drudgery. With the introduction of AI-enabled efficiency tools and actions, Microsoft has finally addressed large parts of the problem, and may have contributed to overcoming criticisms and lamentations that meetings tend to generate.

Image: AI generated notes, tasks, and highlights from meeting

Microsoft has steadily been accelerating their investment in AI and its integration into their range of product offerings. Their recent investment of $10B in OpenAI has been the most visible and declarative of their intent to build AI in almost everything they develop.

Back in July 2019, Microsoft bet on OpenAI with an investment of $1B, at the early stage of AI development. And in 2020, they developed a supercomputer for OpenAI, with more than 285,000 CPU cores, 10,000 GPUs, and 400 gigabits per second of network connectivity for each GPU server – a computing behemoth. Over the year, Microsoft has remained focused and steadfast in ramping up their investment in what they rightfully consider to the next tech frontier.

Having recently integrated AI (the ubiquitous ChatGPT) with search in Microsoft’s Bing (intriguing, even worrisome, early glitches aside) the company is rolling out more AI integrations throughout their product offerings. The latest may very well be the most impressive to date.

Microsoft’s integration of OpenAI’s GPT-3.5 AI language module (the one that powers the uber popular ChatGPT) into their Microsoft Teams Premium heralds a slew of imaginative and productive features that make meeting outcomes truly useful.

The big new AI-enabled feature in Microsoft Teams Premium is Intelligent Recap. It features AI-generated notes, tasks, meeting sections (or chapters), personalzed timeline markers, and a number of other tools. Meeting confidentially protection measures are also incorporated.

In the future, one can reasonably expect to see even more productivity features such as AI-generated file suggestions, email drafts, and even draft project plans & timelines – all gleaned from meeting discussions.

The year 2023 is looking to become an inflection point for AI development and adoption. Microsoft looks like its straddling the initial curve intelligently. How long they continue to do that, and what competitors have in the offing will be quite enterprising.

An Initial Roadmap Charted for the DC Universe

Exciting (and much needed) new developments are afoot at the DC Universe!

DC is heralding the overhaul of its Universe spanning movies, shows, animation, and games. Spearheading their efforts is Co-CEO James Gunn, a wunderkind producer, who has the resourceful Peter Safran by his side as the other Co-CEO. Together, they are working to breathe new life into what has mostly been moody, dark superhero films that have not found success at levels that Marvel Studios have (Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy should be considered a cut and a franchise in itself apart).

James is on a sort of Kevin Feige (Marvel’s head of Studios) journey over at DC – and given that he’s had a good run himself at Marvel with the Guardians movie franchise, he has learnt from and with the best, so this should be exciting to say the least and certainly intriguing. And he’s shown early signs of that at DC helming the show Peacemaker.

DC’s slate of awesome characters from the dark, moody Batman (and Bat family), the above-reproach overpowered hero that is Superman, the interesting Lanterns, the strong female hero Wonder Woman, the ever-witty Flash, and the rest – all need the storytelling prowess and overarching arcs that we have become accustomed to (even fatigued a little, perhaps) at Marvel.

Given that DC is owned by the Warner Brothers group, which also owns the HBO platform, so far DC’s forays have largely neglected and underutilized the platform that is admired for the quality of their content and the talent of their writers & makers. That seems about to change, and would surely be welcome.

We, as audience to the unfolding, competing superhero Universe shall truly be the beneficiary of these craftsmen’s machinations and imaginations.


The Magic Reality of Pixar

In their new short “The Blue Umbrella”, Pixar Animation Studios outdo themselves. The animation is cutting-edge photorealistic to the point that is almost impossible to believe that the entire piece is Computer Generated (CG).

In order to render the magic of the city and the two main characters – a blue and a red umbrella, Pixar resorted to a number of new animation and special effects technologies, which the short fantastically showcases.

Among the various techniques used, prominent are – Global Illumination, Deep Image Compositing and Camera Motion Capture – all set against an enchanting backdrop of dreamy out-of-focus imagery.

Global illumination is “a simulation of how light is emitted and reflected off surfaces, not only the light which comes directly from a light source (direct illumination), but also subsequent cases in which light rays from the same source are reflected by other surfaces in the scene (indirect illumination).” These processor intensive scenes often took 20 to 30 hours to render an image for one frame of film.

Deep Image Compositing is where a scene is created by layering images with notion of depth data in addition to the usual color and opacity channels,  giving greater depth of field. Finally, Camera Motion Capture is a technique of reshooting rendered scenes by recording the physical movements of a dummy camera to create a handheld feel.

An excerpt of the glorious culmination of these techniques and technologies is seen below. Just remember, it is entirely animated!

Keeping Peace at a Price

The United Nations (UN) is about to do something it has never done before. It is going to its first war.

The UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been on the ground since 1999 and over the years the maximum 19,815 personnel mission has seen next-door neighbor Rwanda’s genocide spillover to anarchy, has been silent witness to rebel forces’ taking over Goma, the country’s second-largest city and has recently seen the surging violence of murder and rape of innocent Congolese.

On 28 March 2013, frustrated and exasperated with recurrent waves of conflict, the UN Security Council (UNSC) decided by Resolution 2098, to create a specialized ‘intervention brigade’, with a mandate “of neutralizing armed groups and the objective of contributing to reducing the threat posed by armed groups to state authority and civilian security in eastern DRC and to make space for stabilization activities”, for which it is “authorized to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate.”

In other conflicts, the UN has allowed nations and regional alliances to go to war; however, in Congo, the UN itself and the ‘blue berets’ themselves, under the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), will be responsible for the operational capacities, field operations and the inevitable casualties. The newly-appointed Force Commander Lt. Gen. Carlos Santos Cruz has explicitly indicated that the intervention “starts now!

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A Numbers Game

Bangladesh Population ProjectionRecently, the representative of the UNFPA in Bangladesh stated that the last census to be held in Bangladesh could be in 2021, due to the rapid urbanization of the country and the difficulty of enumeration in cities. The last Population and Housing Census, 2011, conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) showed the population at 149 million people.

However, should Bangladesh not conduct censuses beyond 2021, we would be losing out on valuable information that indicate where our economy and our demography are heading, and help guide policy matters. The UK is also planning similar changes and researchers are worried at the loss of invaluable info. In a world of ‘denominator management’, a small population (i.e. a small denominator) makes most economic indicators seem rosier. But to truly know where we stand and where we need to be, we need such detailed information and regular censuses, no matter how politically unpalatable or logistically nightmarish the process may be.

In the US, recent census data reveal a number of interesting facts that point to the direction of demographies and the economy. Among them are that White Americans will no longer be the majority by 2043, rural population is decreasing for the first time in the US and Asian & Hispanic populations are growing the fastest, in percentage and absolute terms respectively, becoming the bulwark of tomorrow’s labor force.

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This Hacker Life!

We are, or more accurately, are compelled to becoming tach savvy to the point where we are becoming regular hackers. No, I do not mean hacking small everyday DIY stuff, like they teach at Lifehacker. I mean to hack into your gadgets to make it do things it wasn’t originally meant to, to build smart gadgets & robots with a $25 ARM Linux box computer, to use virtual currency that’s decentralized and encrypted, to go on networks that provide anonymous, untraceable exploration and communication – and the sorts.

Jailbreaking, rooting and hacking your devices has become so commonplace that often the choice of hardware depends on the ease of figuratively prying it open and gaining capabilities that are beyond the ‘official’ technical specs or above the approved apps list, be it your smartphone, your game console, your set-top box or even all combinations thereof.

The ubiquitous and ingenious Raspberry Pi is making its way into our lives in the forms of DIY projects, Kickstarter initiatives and children’s essential learning tools. And it is not just limited to scientists, programmers, instructors and geeks, but a slew of enthusiasts are using the Pi to fabricate everything from smart toys to supercomputers and cloud infrastructure. Continue reading →


con·crete·neck [kon-kreet-nek]

1. to intentionally ignore a curious incident, or object: Being of a weak disposition, the man concretenecks any traffic pileup that he drives by.

2. a person who deliberately avoids looking at something of curiosity, or interest: When it comes to his brattish kid’s antics, the man is a huge concreteneck.
3. A blasé person.

2012, ; concrete + neck